Friday, 7 December 2012

Days That Will Live In Infamy: The US And Strategic Suprise

     On this day in 1941, naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan launched a devastating surprise attack on the  US military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It is perhaps therefore fitting that today, on the anniversary, I began thinking on the issue of strategic surprise and intelligence failure.
      Strategic surprise is the successful carrying out of a (normally) military action and the failure of the enemies' intelligence to the extent that it comes as a complete surprise. The USA has suffered two major strategic surprises within its borders in modern times; the first was Pearl Harbor, the second was 9/11. While the attacks, and the failures that allowed them, were quite different one of the major similarities was the response they received domestically.
     Both attacks were met with extreme shock and devastation by the American people and a fast heavily-militarised  response from the government but both responses may require a certain amount of scrutiny:

Why The Surprise?
     Two factors contribute to America's inability to cope well with domestic strategic surprise. Firstly, their geographical location allows them a sense of security perhaps unwarranted in this modern age. With two vast oceans on either side and reasonably friendly relations with surrounding states the population are hugely unprepared for an attack from an outside force on the US itself. The second is the genuine belief in the infallibility of the American security system to the extent that no warning is given of a spectacular attack. Both these factors meant that, while neither attack was massively costly in human or monetary terms, the impact on society was terrible.

Why The Response?
     Pearl Harbor pushed the US into the Second World War with a declaration of war of Japan while 9/11 prompted the Global War On Terror and the eventual invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Both responses are hugely out of proportion to the damage done in the attacks and, in the second one at least, were not really useful courses of action, So why the massive responses? Firstly, their size comes from the executives need to show a response of a scale large enough to match the terror and anger of the domestic population. Secondly, its war-like nature reflects a almost religious faith in the US military to solve any problem. This militarism means that violent rhetoric and force are the normal recourse in times of emergency from the War On Drugs to the response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. While the US military is by far the largest and one of the most well-equipped forces in the world it is clearly not useful in dealing with any situation. The response is based on popular belief systems fueling government policy.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Blue Helms At The Black Heart But Where Is The African Union?

    Fighting has intensified over the last few days as rebel forces of M23 (otherwise known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army) push into the DRC from the East. The Congolese army and United Nations Peacekeepers have fallen back on the provincial capital, Goma, as the rebels take settlements along the border between the Congo and its neighbors Rwanda and Uganda, forcing half a million people to flee their homes.
     The army has been forced back with reports coming in that the rebels are armed with heavy weapons, 120 mm mortars and night vision equipment and have continued to advance even under the repeated bombardment of UN attack helicopters. These are not the hallmarks of a band of rebels and mutineers from the army, better suited to brigandage, rape and murder of unarmed civilians.
      Both the Congolese government and the UN have stated that M23 are supported heavily by the neighboring states of Uganda and, especially, Rwanda. This is backed up by both the sophisticated armament of the rebels and even reports that Rwandan troops have crossed the border in support of M23. While both states have vigorously denied these claims it is clear that the DRC is suffering the worst crisis it has faced in recent months.
     The UN has long been present in the DRC trying to create a state out of what was left after 'peace' was declared over a decade ago. They have already responded to this new threat, supporting the Congolese Army in holding the line at Goma. Simultaneously, though crises in Syria and Israel may have diverted the giant organisations attention, an emergency session of the Security Council was called to respond to the emergency. Adding to previous condemnations and asset-freezes the UNSC called for antagonist states to come together and for all support of M23 to cease immediately.
     While the UN has started to respond to the situation in the DRC what has also become apparent is the amazing silence of the African Union on the issue. While recent issues around Somalia and Mali may have diverted its attention the AU has remained stunningly silent especially considering that DRC, Uganda and Rwanda are all member states. Their website has no update on the situation and they have made little attempt to diplomatically or militarily engage with crisis. With the UN and Congolese struggling valiantly to hold back the heavily-armed rebel assault now would seem an appropriate time for the leading transnational organisation to assert itself properly or risk losing a great deal of legitimacy and respect if the rebels somehow defeat the combined forces at Goma. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Is Democracy Necessary For State Legitimacy?

     Having just finished reading a very interesting piece by the BBC on the dichotomy of the US elections and  Chinese leadership change I began to think on the role of democracy within the state and whether, in fact it is necessary for good governance. By democracy I refer in rough terms to the election-based participatory system common in many states and originating in Europe.

     Democracy has become a rarefied object, a fetish, of many states and, as a political narrative, has been used to invade, occupy, assassinate and impoverish. It has become a propaganda by-word for 'progress' and 'good' just in the same way that terms like terrorism are used to instill fear and a sense of national insecurity. By using these narratives in such broad and often politicized terms they have lost all true meaning.

     It therefore becomes necessary to stand back and separate democracy from its own propaganda and assess whether it necessarily leads to better government. In other words if a state's success is measured by a variety of indicators (public legitimacy, economic growth, welfare provision, security etc), does democracy add anything that other systems do not already provide?

    In terms of economic growth democracy is most often tied to liberal capitalist economics of one shade or another; while they could be separated academically in real terms such a distinction becomes so blurred as to be pointless. But in a world of financial insecurity, debt crises, huge austerity drives and national disillusionment with free-market economics it is hard to miss the comparative success of nations like China and Russia. While other democratic states maintain (somewhat shaky) growth these two nations especially demonstrate the lie in the ideal of democratic liberalism. China has risen on a steady and yet extremely large growth rate while maintaining a Communist government and decidedly undemocratic decision-making. Similarly, Russia has started to overcome the legacy of the fall of the USSR and continues to grow while having a government which while called democratic, limits the outcome of that participation to make it almost an autocracy.

     Public legitimacy can be defined as the belief of the people in their government and the ability of that government to properly govern the state and its people. This is perhaps the most surprising area as the common belief is that with political representation comes the support of the population; if people elect the government then surely it has legitimacy. As the BBC article points out however, China enjoys huge popular legitimacy with between 80-95% of the population being relatively or extremely satisfied with the government with 91% supporting its handling of the economy. This is not to say that China is some form of political Eden. There is still a huge amount of inequality, popular unrest and government limits on press freedom. However, considering that Britain's score on the latter survey was a paltry 45% it demonstrates an extreme level of popular support for a state that democratic theory would argue should be extremely conflicted.

     When looking at the provision of state resources to the population and the general maintenance of the state it is again not necessarily tied to the provision of democracy. Many democratic governments are extremely corrupt or rule over states with massive inequalities. The United States, the original leader of the 'free world' has one of the highest levels of income and public inequality in the developed world. Similarly, in terms of infrastructure the US provides woefully poor support in areas such as welfare and health infrastructure. China on the other hand is exhibiting some good signs of infrastructure growth;  its high-speed rail network is currently the largest in the world and will soon overtake the combined figures of the rest of the planet. As another smaller example. Belgium spent over a year without an elected government and continued growing economically and making political decisions with surprisingly good ability (though some of that support and security can be said to come from the democratic system already in place). Again this is not to say that non-democratic states are better but that democracy must not be rarefied as the only way to bring greater state competency.

    By no means is it correct to say that we should abandon democracy. This can lead to horrible moral and political tragedies like the rule of Fascism or the rise of Stalin. Similarly, it can lead to autocratic theologies like Iran or corrupt dictatorships like those currently being fought in the Middle East. This article simply cautions against imbuing democracy with extra-political meanings and seeing it as the cure for the worlds ills. It is a clearly imperfect systems which often does not provide the best results but can often provide the best protection of the population (and perhaps that is the ultimate goal of politics.) It is also clear that other systems should not necessarily be viewed with distrust or pity but rather it is necessary to encourage openness and dialogue in an attempt to share the good parts of these systems and grow as a combined human race.

BBC article -

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Three Uses Of Lunar Resources That Create A Reason For Sovereign Take-Over

Science tells us that the Moon was formed by a Mars-sized object impacting with Earth, blowing debris into orbit which formed the Lunar mass. This means that much of the resources present are similar to those on Earth but with some notable amounts and anomalies. There are huge supplies of Oxygen locked into the surface, bonded with other elements. Water is almost certainly found in ice deposits at the poles and on the dark side. Helium-3, an element highly prized as an energy source, is also abundant. These resources form one reason (out of several) that certain states could ignore the poor attempts to codify a legal framework on space and assert ownership of areas of the Moon and the valuable resources contain there-in. This article outlines several reasons why these resources are such so tempting; rising in both costs and returns.

  1.  With many nations struggling with resource consumption, the minerals found on the Moon could be an economic and industrial life-saver. As well as being a ready source of replacements for rare or costly materials, Helium-3 is an excellent source of energy with far less pollution than comparable fossil fuels
  2. Using Lunar resources it would eventually be possible to develop orbital or surface solar energy facilities (e.g. Solar Power Satellite whose usage, first postulated by O’Neill and Glasner may be feasible when developed from space). Using microwaves to send energy back to Earth it would be possible to move construction, production and transfer off-planet, which could be an almost completely clean, and massively financially beneficial, form of production. 
  3. By escaping Earth’s gravity well it is also possible to create a sustainable cislunar (between Earth and the Moon's orbit) travel system and, using water and resources gained from the Moon, create fuel and bases from which to both develop Mid Earth Orbits (MEOs) and Geostationary Earth Orbits (GEOs) which is incredibly difficult from Earth. This has the added benefit of making a cheaper system to bring resources to Earth. The moon can also act as a staging ground and construction site for system travel and exploration.
While these courses of action seem a little far-fetched they have all proved to be feasible for several of the major state powers following their stated aims of achieving Lunar bases between 2020 and 2030. They all provide enough of a return to convince states such as the USA and especially China to see flouting international codes of conduct and claiming territory.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Fight For The Soul Of Somalia?

     There is a fight going on in Somalia, not the one we hear about in the news with guns and soldier and Islamic rebels battling in the streets and countryside. No, there is an equally important and far harder to spot conflict happening right now in the war-torn East African country - the battle for Somalia's soul.
     If the battle for Somalia's body is going reasonably well, even without Ugandan air support after the terrible crash last week, the battle for its political and social soul is on a knife edge. With the transitonal authority ending on August 20th (or there abouts!) everything must go perfectly or else the country may even descend back into the anarchy of the dark times. As Peter Martell of AFP writes 'analysts are gloomy that a United Nations-backed selection process will usher in nothing more than a reshuffle of leaders already fingered for graft, risking an even further fragmentation of power into the hands of local warlords.' The legitimacy of the central government is all that can hold the dispirate groups and individuals who govern the various, and often confused, areas of the country together. As Martell points out if the UN reshuffle simply brings the old faces back to power with no increase in legitimacy or democratic accountability to combat the flagrant corruption it may break the tenuous links between the groups. 
     With autonomous and semi-autonomous regions spread from the more effective governments of Somaliland and Puntland in the North to naesant areas like Jubbaland (Azania) in the South. With these politcal units often in conflict with each other it is only the authority of the central government that keeps Somalia a state at all. Without a successful democratic and accountable government in place the country could splinter in pieces and warlords could rise again.
     Neighbouring nations of Kenya and Ethiopia have both backed several of these regional administrations and military groups in attempts to create workable buffer zones between their borders and the territory controlled by al Shabab. With Kenya promoting Jubbaland and Ethiopia supporting the forces and government of Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a (ASWJ) it is already clear that competing interests are abound in Somalia without even taking in to consideration the corruption and nepotism of the central elites.
     It is important to keep both of these fights in perspective as Somalia attempts to move forward from its troubled past. With the addition of troops from Sierra Leone and the final push on the strategically vital town of Kismayo happening soon, the battle for Somalia's body is going to plan. The battle for her soul on the other hand, hangs in the balence, as transiton turns to neo-transition. If nothing changes and the same corrupt politicians keep control, legitimacy will fail and the country will splinter and implode once more.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Will Uganda's Vanishing Helicopters Affect AMISOMs Ability To Take Kismayo?

     Search and rescue attempts continue in the face of terrible weather conditions for three Ugandan military helicopters that disappeared in Kenya while on their way to Somalia to support the AMISOM mission. Out of the flight of four:

  • One landed safely at the refuelling point at Garissa, Kenya
  • One pilot reported in though it unclear whether his plan crashed or was forced to land
  • Two have disappeared without trace
     These helicopters, reported to be Mil MI-24 helicopter gunships, were on their way to southern Somalia to support AMISOM forces in an assault on the al Shabab-held stronghold of Kismayo, a port city near the border with Kenya. This assault has been reported to be happening in the 'next couple of days' and will be a major turning point in the war against the Islamic extremist group, if it succeeds....
     Uganda forms a major part of the AMISOM contingent with forces from Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti making up the rest. Will the loss of these helicopters have an impact on the assault of the city? The answer is almost definitely. While exact numbers are sketchy Strategic Intelligence News reports 'Uganda had acquired Mil-24 Hinds most of which were unserviceable but later contracted Russian experts to refurbish them at Soroti Flying School.' With no air assets to replace those lost in Kenya, Uganda and its AMISOM allies may have a problem providing close air support to their troops once they enter Kismayo.
     AMISOM has been fighting against al Shabab in Somalia for years and only in recent months has headway been made when troops from Kenya and Ethiopia invaded and Mogadishu was finally taken in its entirety. The Islamist forces are tough, zealous and experienced and have had months to construct their defences in the port city. With no-where left to run it must be supposed that any frontal assault will be met with hard resistance. In contrast AMISOM presents a mixed bag of forces - the soldiers of Uganda, Djibouti and Burundi and experienced in Somalia but lack strong assets such as helicopters; Kenyan forces are inexperienced in any form of fighting but have a greater amount of training and equipment. The success of this alliance in taking Kismayo is by no means a forgone conclusion and could turn into a bloody disaster.
     In an urban environment, clearing a guerrilla enemy out house by house and street by street, close air support is vital. While warplanes are effective at tackling large targets, helicopters (especially with the attack and transport capabilities of the MI-24 Hind) are indispensable in taking on small strong points, covering friendly forces and demoralising the enemy. 
    This accident in Kenya may yet prove to have ramifications beyond the possible loss of life and equipment. The attack on Kismayo, perhaps the hardest single battle of the war, could be in jeopardy and a lot more lives could be lost without the support of those helicopters.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Syria's Strategy Of Modern Blitzkrieg

In an escalation of the on-going violence between the Syrian government and rebel groups the Syrian Air Force have commenced a bombing campaign targeting the countries second city and economic hub, Aleppo. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been mounting a fierce attack on both Aleppo and Damascus over the past few days in an attempt to dislodge the defending government forces. Other air elements in the form of helicopter gunships have also reportedly been seen providing air support in the city.
These new developments, building on the past history of this conflict, demonstrate the Assad governments new strategy, a Blitzkrieg offensive against rebel forces to deny them strongholds in the country's cities. Harking back to its origins in WWII, Blitzkrieg (literally 'Lightening War') refers to a tactic of using overwhelming artillery and armoured forces backed up with fast-moving storm-troopers to punch through enemy forces. While the Syrian conflict is not perhaps so manoeuvrable the comparison is reasonably accurate. By using heavy bombing runs to remove any enemy cohesion then using ground troops with close-air support to force the gaps left by the jets, pro-government forces are using similar urban tactics to the original Blitzkriegs of the 1940s.
The use of air forces is a strategically good move when fighting forces such as the FSA and other rebel groups. These forces have become adept at dealing innovatively with heavy infantry assaults and even tanks which were one of the governments most heavy tools of war used until today. Without their own air cover or workable way of targeting the enemy planes and helicopters en masse, the rebel forces biggest weakness is from the air. The range and destructive power of air assaults, coupled with the regimes unflinching use of violence on civilian centres and cities means that this new move removes any safe zones or regrouping points the rebels have. However remote or embedded within the population these areas are the use of fast jets forces the rebels to constantly be on the move and stops them coalescing into a large fighting force capable of threatening the regimes strongholds.
There is another large advantage in the governments new use of bombing campaigns. In a time of uncertainty where government troops have often mutinied and changed sides to form the backbone of the FSA, morale is all important. By deploying air assets, morale is strengthened both by its presence and also by its ability to keep pro-government ground troops from facing dug-in opponents or obstacles which can now be tackled from the air.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Trying To Kill Water With A Rock: Why Military Campaigns Against Global Terror Are Doomed To Failure

As the Economic Community Of West African States (Ecowas) gears up to send between 3000 and 5000 troops to help stabilise Mali the media has begun hailing it as the 'next Somalia'. As fighting between government troops, separatist rebels and the Islamic extremist group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb  (AQIM) continues, West Africa could indeed be about to witness a situation in which a small force of outside forces get caught up in fighting well out of their control in a situation as complex as it is impossible to win. 
It seems unlikely that, as with almost every other military campaign to destroy Islamic extremism, this Ecowas mission will be successful. A more likely scenario is that apart from scattered battles the international force will see little of the terrorists that they are supposedly being sent to fight, instead they will find themselves in the middle of a civil war between the transitional government and the forces of the Tuareg rebellion under the National Movement for the Liberation of Asawad (MNLA). Eventually they will be forced to pull out leaving Mali little better off than it was before.
Why is it so hard to combat groups such as AQIM? The answer may stem from the difference in tactics between the range of national and international forces and the terrorist groups they target. While there has been a marked move towards more flexible counter-terrorism strategy since the beginning of the GWOT (such as COIN in the USA) this is in no way capable of producing a coherent military solution to the problem of international terrorism. International campaigns (ISAF, AMISOM etc) have had varying levels of success in combating terrorist groups in small geographically defined areas but therein lies the flaw. Such attempts to militarily combat terrorism are confined by borders and political limits upon their ability to engage enemy forces. It is often the case that ground forces will advance across territory and even take towns without much resistance but, having moved on, the insurgents will simply return. Just as it is impossible to kill water by hitting it with a rock, insurgents with flow around a military excursion, using borders and safe areas, and then return once it has left. Even when, as in Somalia, terrorist groups lose open governance of areas the return will still occur albeit in an altered form.
Of course the other issue with attempting to kill water with a rock is that, however big or shiny a rock you use, water cannot die. However many times terrorist cells are destroyed by ground incursions or strikes from UAVs and aircraft they will be reformed or reconstituted. For every death statistic you see on the news, for every drone strike that killed terrorists and civilians, more and more angry people are pushed over the edge and join the cause. However much ground you take, bombs you drop, alliances you make or wars you start there is no military final solution to solve global terrorism. Militarist strategies may hold them back, may disrupt or interdict their actions but it cannot be a solution. As Ecowas may be about to find out to their cost, global terrorism is a like a river delta; it breaks and forms and breaks again, changing shape and size and density around the globe. Rocks will not stop it; we must find other solutions to finally end the insidious threat of terror. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Space, The Final Frontier?

As I am about to begin a Masters course at Sussex University my mind turned to possible topics for my next dissertation. I (along with the help of some friends!) began to get incredibly interested in the concept of Martian colonisation. I began to do a little research and found a startling thing - not only was there barely any research on the political impact of extraterrestrial colonisation there were no definitive answers to anything! With projects estimating that Mars could be colonised by as early as the 2030s this is an issue that has actually urgency to it. We cannot allow our first steps as a space-faring race to be marred by fighting over land and law and other petty Earthly squabbles. There are perhaps two major areas that warrant consideration before all others:

So, accepting the premise that Mars has the ability to colonised in the near future, we have the problem of ownership of land and resources. Anyone who won the race to put permanent settlements on another planet enters a huge grey area of having access to, and control over an entire planet. Obviously, one party cannot control Mars (or the Moon which is the other option). Such a ludicrous path would lead to conflict and even violence with future settlement bids by other parties. So who then decides the limits of ownership? To answer such a question we turn to the United Nations. It is in fact reasonably clear in at least the basics of ownership law. Under the terms of the 1966 'Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,' any object, person or structure placed on a celestial body remains the property of the state from which it was sent, however:

"The placement of personnel, space vehicles, equipment, facilities, stations and installations on or below the surface of the Moon [or other bodies], including structures connected with its surface or subsurface, shall not
create a right of ownership over the surface or the subsurface of the Moon or any areas thereof."

Under international law no one can hold ownership of any part of a planet and may only claim it of the objects placed upon it. Under the same law private companies (who are more likely to be the first colonisers) are the responsibility of the states from which they are registered and are therefore subject to the same conditions. However, this poses huge issues when it is considered that many of the plans for colonising the Red Planet require the excavation, use and even exportation of local resources such as heavy metals, ores and rock. If such material is dug up to be used solely by the colony for the construction of everything from cement to intricate technology is it then part of the facilities mentioned in the above text or not? If Mars cannot be owned then what about large-scale resource exportation to Earth? While I personally have problems with strip mining and shipping off the first planet we ever colonise it is an issue as it may affect the economic feasibility of colonisation. While the law provides for scientific samples to be taken (as long as the results are shared) it is hard to see that stretching to full-scale economic exploitation. The problem is only intensified when considering what happens when more than one colonisation effort happens on the same planet. Who decides limits and boundaries? 

As we have seen, the laws both of the UN and the state involved are used in deciding policy but whose policy are we referring too? When a large-scale group of humans have set up a community on another world, who runs it? People often link these problems to previous frontier advances (the New World of North America and European colonialism spring to mind) but this is, in fact, many magnitudes more complicated than that. At present, communication from the Earth to Mars would be governed by time, distance and relativity making it hard to make fast or accurate decisions from some sort of home base. There are several extremes of option that would probably form the scale for the choice of government form:

1) Direct Rule - the company or state that is the major head of this project (or a group of the above) actively control the colony and run it as an extension of their own state in the same way as previous colonial efforts. This would most likely involve a direct representative of that party enforcing the decisions of the majority back on Earth. This process has multiple floors, the least of which is inter-planetary communication. There will never just be one colony for long and if they are governed by one party the spread of colonies under different masters could result in huge political and social strain on both planets possible leading to conflict. It is also difficult to see how things such as human rights law, working practices and other safeguards would be enforced if the state or company decided to ignore them to gain, for example, an economic advantage in resource exploitation.

2) Colonial Sovereignty - on the opposite end of the spectrum from direct party rule from Earth is the idea of colonies ruling themselves. This would most likely be done by direct democracy (everyone votes on everything) or a small council especially when colonies remain small. An alternative would be to run it in a military way with control given to one commander and other ranks being positioned below. The advantages of such a method are better and faster control of situations, and politics carried out by people intimately involved in the colony and its needs. The disadvantages are the difficulty of enforcing international law after removing the responsibility of the state from which the colony originated, the colony having little political or economic experience to use when running its own affairs and the issue of defining what the colony is (is it a state? how is it represented on the UN etc?).

I feel that the solution probably lies somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum but, along with the question of ownership, represent huge grey areas in our understanding of what Mars colonisation could mean politically. These represent a few of the questions and ideas I have encountered so far when investigating this area and hopefully they will become more developed as greater progression is made and maybe even a solution will be found!

Friday, 1 June 2012

The New Technological Unipolar Moment?

In the mid-1940s the US had beaten its rivals, notably the USSR and Nazi Germany, in developing the atomic bomb. This weapon of extreme power and potency fundamentally changed politics and warfare from that point onwards. However, for the four years before the Soviet Union created its first weapon the US had true unipolar power to use this new weapon as it saw fit with no fear of similar reprisals from its enemies. This is perhaps best exemplified by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. This use of mass-destruction weapons on civilian populations has caused huge controversy, but arguably shortened WWII and lessened the loss of life that would have been caused by a ground invasion of mainland Japan. However, from the point of this article, the more important thing about the bombing of Japan is the ability of the US to carry it out. Unlike the Mutually Assured Destruction present during the Cold War, America could carry out this paradigm-shifting attack with impunity knowing that no other state could respond in kind. The unipolar ability possessed by the USA in 1945 obviously failed when the Soviets developed its own bomb. 67 years later nuclear arms are definitely owned by the USA, UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India and were given up by South Africa. Multi-polarity, both globally and regionally is now the natural state of the political environment.

However, we may now be living in the next technological unipolar moment. While the possession of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) is spreading, it is currently being led by the USA and it's allies including the UK and Israel. Other states including Russia, China and Iran have started developing their own systems though with varied success or prospects. This situation, similar to the early Cold War has led, indeed, to similar results. The US now dominates the field and have deployed UAVs to Turkey, the Seychelles, Djibouti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Yemen to combat terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, AQAP, AQIM, Al Shabaab and the PKK. With relative impunity the US has used this power to strike anybody or location they deem to be connected to terrorism. They have declared it legal, they have chosen the target and nobody, not their targets, opposed states or the UN, have the ability to stop them doing so. While the development of similar UAV and UCAV systems by American rivals, notably China and Russia, will deplete America's ability to use their drones at will the inability of weak states and the terrorist groups being targeted will mean that the advantages of these unmanned systems will still be huge.

Israel is yet another demonstration of the unipolar power of UAVs, if a regional one. Apart from allied US drones in Turkey, Israel possesses the only viable UAV fleet in the region. This small state has always striven to use technology as a means to combat the human and resource advantages of its neighbouring enemies. By developing strong air forces, intelligence structures and technological aids for its troops Israel has managed to beat coalitions formed from Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. UAVs represent the new way to give a small, technologically advanced state the edge when fighting with much larger, less developed rivals. Larger systems, like the US's huge Global Hawk, may also allow the US to gather intelligence and strike individuals and targets in states such as Iran which do not border Israel which is sure to be a bonus for the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the MOSSAD.

Just as nuclear weapons proliferated to all sides and regional conflicts within the Cold War, the early technological unipolarity of America allowed it to attack Japan in 1945 with complete impunity. Similarly, UAVs are proliferating as the US's rivals' attempt to match its lead. However, especially in the GWOT, America (and its allies) hold a monopoly on the mass use of drones allowing them to target as they will across vast swathes of the Middle East and North Africa without any ability for anyone to stop them.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Is America Engaged In A Huge Piece Of Grand Strategy Across the MENA In Support Of The War On Terror?

     What links Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Seychelles, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? The US military and/or the CIA is active in every one of them.

     It has now become apparent that the US is far more involved in Yemen then they care to openly advertise. Firstly, the have deployed both Predator and Reaper UAVs to support the Yemeni military in their fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula (AQAP). It is also widely believed that F-15Es of the 338th Expeditionary Squadron have been conducting air raids in Yemen from the huge base at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

     Not only does the US allegedly have both manned and unmanned missions taking place in Yemen but it has now been announced that 'dozens' of US troops are operating from al-Annad air force base inside Yemen, about 45 miles behind the lines of the latest big push against AQAP. There purpose is to co-ordinate air strikes in support of the Yemeni push centred around the city of Zinjibar. In addition, Washington announced in was sending training troops back into Yemen to help bolster the under-equipped national armed forces.
     I would argue that it is not going to far to state that the US is involved in a full-scale proxy war in Yemen. Using the national army as ground forces to control captured territory and to contain the AQAP, Washington has created an efficient and cheap method of furthering the Global War On Terror (GWOT). However, with unmanned and manned aircraft, training and logistics units in-country and naval forces off the coast this is not a small skirmish into enemy territory, this is war.

     It would appear that the US is systematically dominating the entire Arabian and North/East African arena to target the threats of Al Qaeda affiliates. The tiny state of Djibouti forms a major part of that network. It is the centre for most of the UAV, air strike and special forces capabilities across the whole region. It has also been widely reported that another UAV base is being built on the island nation of the Seychelles to target pirates and the terrorist group al Shabab in Somalia.
     Somalia is a major target for the war on terror. Al Shabab have been implicated in various international terrorist attacks, especially in the surrounding countries of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The US has repeatedly used drones to strike at this al Qaeda affiliate as well as deployed strike aircraft into the country. Special Forces have also been sent into the region. SEAL Team 6 were used to recently rescue two western aid workers captured by al Shabab in a raid similar to that against Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. In February, a U-28 spy plane crashed in East Africa on its return to Lemonnier though its crew were listed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

     Heading north, the US military is also involved in a long-running but little known war in the border regions of Turkey and Iraq. US Predators are being used to support the battle between Turkey and Iraq on one side and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) a nationalist, secular group attempting to create a break away Kurdish state. Designated as terrorist by Turkey, the EU and the US they only vaguely fall into the limits if the GWOT. This military alliance seems to be in motion to shore up relations between the three countries. The US is trying to gain allies and more importantly staging grounds across the Middle East. Djibouti, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Turkey and the Seychelles; a system of bases and allies designed to dominate any area where al Qaeda or its affiliates may attempt to set up. This is not just a shadow war, if the US continues with this power building this could turn into a shadow occupation.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

US Gay Marriage: The Sun Is Setting On The Opposition

This week North Carolina constitutionally banned gay marriage and civil unions; it becomes the 31st state to do so either legally or in their constitution. In total nine states have openly accepted gay marriage (New York, New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, Vermont, DC, Maryland, Connecticut and Washington). By simply looking at the numbers it would appear that gay marriage support is localised to a small northern enclave while outright condemnation holds sway over much of the south of the country. However, while the numbers look very one-sided there is cause for hope.

President Obama joined other prominent figures including his own VP, in supporting gay marriage. Stating 'same sex couples should be able to get married,' on ABC, the broadcast was watched as avidly as 'the moon landing.' Even though this can be interpreted as a move to win over liberal voters for the presidential elections in November he is the first President to come out in support of gay marriage and adds an impetus to the debate.

Gay marriage also has wide support from both traditional and new media. As Rob Dreher, editor of the American Conservative, states on the BBC's website 'it is impossible to overstate the depth and breadth of media support for same-sex marriage. In my newsroom experience, it is taken as given that any opposition to gay marriage can only come from rank bigotry.' Links are clearly drawn between traditional marriage and segregationist beliefs meaning that the media tends to vilify any attempt to defend 'traditional' values and religious beliefs as out-of-touch or actually bigoted. A whole new generation of journalists wish to experience their own version of the black civil rights struggle. This media attitude means that it may become the norm to vilify the opposition and see their religious and conservative views as bigoted.

There is also a generational divide when it comes to the support, or otherwise, of same-sex marriage. Polling data shows a stark difference between the views of millennial young adults and the older generations. Indeed they show a 26% increase in support and a 20% drop in opposition! As a twenty year-old, I cannot remember a time where race or sex was openly used to discriminate. It is quite possible that the children of today will grow up not remembering a time when sexual orientation was such a reason and I hope with all my heart that it happens as soon as possible.

To conclude, while a state map would show a crushing defeat of same-sex marriage as it is crushed by the traditional southern states, other reasons show that such opposition is fighting a slow defeat. By coming out in support of gay marriage President Obama has confirmed the rise of support among the political and social elites in America. Coupled with this, the majority of mainstream media has also taken the side of the gay-rights activists and even openly condemn opposition views. These views are also on the way out with younger generations opening themselves to more and more liberal ideas, often not understanding the religious and traditionalist arguments presented by their elders. All in all it seems clear that the sun is sinking on the opposition to same-sex marriage in the United States and there is rarely been a prettier sunset.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

US Drones Making And Breaking Friendships

It is clear that Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) are swiftly changing warfare and intelligence-gathering across the world. Ranging from squad-level single use drones to the more well known Predator and Reaper drones used by the US and allied military forces. Recent news stories have demonstrated the wide geographical spread of drone use, in most cases by the US, from Yemen, to Somalia, to Pakistan. These UAVs have clear and impressive combat abilities, especially against individualised, non-conventional forces. However, what should be discussed more is the geo-political effects of the zealous deployment of UAVs. By glossing over the legal aspects of using unmanned vehicles, the US has annoyed and needled countries who are its allies in the Global War On Terror (GWOT). However, by deploying these UAVs to aid allies in their own battles can gain a great deal of political and public support. The lessons from the deployments need to be learned fast to limit any political damage in the USA's hunt for security on a global scale.
Perhaps the best example of the US being blinded by military possibilities and pursuing politically damaging actions is the controversial deployment of US drones into Pakistan to hunt Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fleeing from Afghanistan into the lawless border regions. Militarily, this has many advantages. With little or no anti-aircraft capabilities these combatants are easy targets for UAV strikes and by following them across the border it keeps pressure on them, refusing them breathing space to reorganise and resupply. However, both the violation of the internationally recognised border and the continuing deaths of both civilians and, occasionally even Pakistani troops, has managed to anger Islamabad and strain the alliance with Washington to the point that  embargoes on various US military and other movements have been imposed, almost in an attempt to retake the power from the US. As well as angering an important allied government the effect on Pakistan's population must be considered. As Donald Rumsfeld pointed out, winning the GWOT depends on the question 'Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?' In the case of Pakistan, no radical cleric is needed to ferment anti-American feeling in the population. As James Joyner of The New Republic ( pointed out:
  • 'A major survey conducted in Pakistan by the New America Foundation found that "nearly nine out of every ten people in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] oppose the U.S. military pursuing al-Qaeda and the Taliban in their region."' Also, more worryingly...
  • 'While only one in ten of FATA residents think suicide attacks are often or sometimes justified against the Pakistani military and police, almost six in ten believe these attacks are justified against the U.S. military.
It seems that, by not considering the political impacts, the US has managed to both alienate a potentially strong ally, at least in terms of the GWOT, and actually turning the population against them and towards the terrorists who would, under other circumstances, have been the alienated ones. In short, by enforcing the drone war in Pakistan they have hurt the terrorists but managed to simultaneously lose the battle for hearts and minds at both the local and state level.

However, the US has managed one political success with its UAV systems. By aiding Turkey and Iraq in their fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) America has reinforced a tentative alliance, especially with the former. The PKK are defined as terrorists by the EU, Turkey and the US and have been conducting a socialist, nationalist campaign for an independent Kurdish state since the mid-1980s. They are to Turkey what Al Qaeda are to the US and are a major part of Turkeys security environment. While they have been linked to Al Qaeda sponsored attacks against the US in Iraq, America has never paid a huge amount of attention to them. However, during both Gulf Wars the US has aided both Turkey and Iraq in combating the PKK. There has been some evidence of US weapons being used by the PKK and, along with the notorious 'hood' incident have made Turkey question the partnership. With the pull-out of forces from Iraq, Turkey feared that they were being abandoned by their ally and the popular perception of the US declined markedly. 
To lose such a valuable Islamic ally would have been criminally negligent of the US and it was its UAVs that were to prove a major part of the solution. As well as selling new Super Cobras to the Turkish military the US relocated four Predator drones from northern Iraq to Turkey. This made no real difference to the military capabilities of the US but made huge difference to Washington-Ankara relations. As Karen Kaya argued in the Small Wars Journal (, 'The drones are seen as a key weapon for the Turkish Armed Forces in fighting the PKK.  Enabling and improving Turkey’s capability for self-defense, modernization and regional security are important not just against the PKK; but also as a way to empower a regional Muslim ally to help influence the Arab countries in a volatile Middle East.' By helping in the fight against the nationalist Kurds it also undermines the accusation that the USA is waging war on Islam, and secures a powerful ally in a region dominated by Iran and Syria. 

In conclusion, the US drone war cannot simply be taken in military isolation, it has political consequences as well. As Pakistan exemplifies, blindly following a military strategy can do a lot of damage to allies whom you ride rough-shod over. It is important to show political wisdom as the UAV capabilities of the US, one of the worlds leaders in the technology can actually facilitate political support and alliances as the situation with Turkey demonstrates.  

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Madeleine McCann Factor

This week is the 5 year anniversary of the disappearance of  British toddler Madeleine McCann in Portugal, an event which the BBC is climbing onto with a Panorama program dedicated to the subject. Today the Metropolitan Police displayed a computer-generated image of what Madeleine McCann would look like aged 9 after disappearing on holiday in Portugal in 2007. But why does this little girl, sad as here continuing disappearance is, keep appearing in the news so many years after she was last seen? Does this ongoing story demonstrate certain things about the way our media system works?
Firstly, I think there is a certain image factor that must be considered. Disappearing children is hardly international news worthy (though maybe it should be). The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre show that in '2009/10 there were an estimated 360,000 missing persons incidents, of which approximately 230,000 (64%) related to a child under 18,' and that is just in the UK alone. While many of these children are found and returned home safely, that leaves many thousands of cases unresolved. However, to gain interest and traction on an otherwise routine story news companies require the right image to sell it. The pictures of a very cute little girl with blond hair and a cheeky smile was perfect to tug on the heartstrings of people all round the world and boost their ratings to boot. Another example of this image creation would be Phoenix the calf who, having been part of a herd culled to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth disease was picked up as a news symbol and became the image of a national campaign.
Secondly there was the location of the disappearance. It is probably true that hundreds of children go missing in the urban jungles of London, Manchester, Glasgow or any other major city with few people noticing or caring overly much about them. The fact that Madeleine disappeared from a holiday apartment in sunny Portugal, a popular holiday destination for many families, combining glorious weather with low cost and short-haul flights. It added a sense of drama and spine-tingling horror to the story with news outlets glorifying in the fact that so many British tourists go to the same area.
A third cause for the longevity of this story and it's Lazarus-like ability to keep returning to the news of the day is the McCann family itself. Placing their considerable input behind the case they refused to accept any loss of importance or impetus. While I'm sure that any loving family would put as much time and money into finding a missing child, it may be that the McCann family had advantages in both. The parents especially Madeleine's mother, managed to keep their faces on the TV and their calls for information in the headlines a long time after most news would have died away. Created a slick media and policy outfit they achieved continuous stories which have popped up in the five years since that sad day. When the police, both in the UK and Portugal seemed to be failing, the McCann family hired private investigators to take up the slack and producing another slue of media stories.
While the story is incredibly sad and all attempts should be made to find out what happened to Madeleine McCann it is also a highly interesting media story that has outlasted almost any other. This is not just down to the location of the disappearance or the amount of money and time the McCann family could put behind the case, it is also down to the images which, used by the media to gain interest, allowed a unremarkable story to stick in the nations consciousness and elicit the continuing interest.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


I really really really don't like the English Defence League. Probably the first thing you should know really. They are a bunch of crazy, extremist, pseudo-political bullies who need to learn to live in a decent society. In short it means that I always enjoy a god laugh at their expense when one comes along, and oh blimey did that happen today!
The founder of the EDL, Tommy Robinson, tweeted this amazing piece of vomit when faced with a picture of the Taj Mahal as the Twitter background:

welcome to twitter homepage has a picture of a mosque. what a joke #creepingsharia

By this he is insinuating that Twitter is being taken over by those evil Muslim people because the Taj Mahal is a Mosque. As anyone with even half a brain (or google?) would know the Taj Mahal has nothing to do with Islam and is in fact a Mausoleum from, if anything, Hinduism.

This made me laugh for a bit until I started seeing the reaction on Twitter. Thousands upon thousands of jokes immediately started all with the hashtag #creepingsharia. These ranged from:

Muslamic bloke walked past on tiptoes #creepingsharia

to the brilliant:

You can't say EDL without saying "Eid" #creepingsharia

I find this brilliant and it restored my faith that the majority of people still find the EDL a figure of fun and, considering the apparent intellect of it's founder, there is a lot to make fun of.
However, on a more serious point, we have to be watchful of all extremist beliefs, just in case. Look at Breivik in Norway! An extreme case but one with a warning to us all...

Source for info and quotes:

The Lone Wolf

              One of the biggest news stories of the last few days has been the trial of the right-wing mass-murderer Anders Breivik who killed 77 people using first a car bomb and then a gun assault against a political youth camp. Not too long ago the world was also shocked as a man in Toulouse repeatedly employed hit-and-run tactics in a wave of terror across the city. But why are lone wolves - people who attack without the support of a group or  conspirators - such a threat?
              Firstly because it is incredibly difficult to discover their actions before they strike and just as hard to find them afterwards. The West currently relies heavily on Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) as the major tool for discovering terrorism. But if the terrorist does not contact anyone or have previous links to suspect groups SIGINT becomes harder and harder to use effectively. In the case of Breivik in particular he is not only a home-grown terrorist but a white one at that. With so much attention paid to Islamic extremism and foreign nations entering the country, a target who does not fit the religious, ethnic or political profile is often completely missed.
               Another issue is that, partly because of the difficulties in discovering them, Lone Wolves can be immensely damaging. Terrorism, whatever it's motive, does not have to be big or costly in lives or property, it just has to be terrifying. Take 9/11 as an example; it killed around 3000 people, a relatively small number, but it's greatest effect was destroying the feeling of invulnerability surrounding most Americans belief in their countries power. Breivik may only have killed 77 and the Toulouse gunman even less but it is the fear that is important and it is the fear which gets political results. With the general ease of obtaining or creating simple weapons any person, be they a right-wing nationalist like Breivik or a religious fundamentalist or anything else, can employ terror to change the world around them. Fear of the unknown, of the hidden, of the violent is far easier to create than it is to find and stop and therefore a much worse prospect for society than large-scale attacks which are easier to find than to stop once they are in motion.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Syria - The Big Question

            As violence appears to rage unabated in Syria and the Damascus government creeps and slithers around it's responsibilities under the Kofi Annan peace deal, things may be coming to a head. With shelling and attacks continuing in Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Damascus, it seems clear that without a sudden and unexpected change in direction, the Syrian government is continuing it's brutal repression of activists and the Free Syrian Army. This then begs the question: 'if Annan's peace plan has failed, what is next for the international community?'
             The responsibility to do anything falls primarily, though not entirely, on the shoulders of the UN and the Arab League along with interested parties such as NATO and neighbours Turkey and Iran. A wide range of interventions and policy options are available to these actors and unified action may be the only way to bring this mess to some kind of conclusions.
             On the non-interventionist end, there is simple quarantine. A harsh measure, it must however be considered as a viable option. In the UN Security Council both Russia and China are staunchly anti-intervention in their opinions and a lack of will or ability may overshadow the choices of the remaining members. Similarly, the Arab League has it's own problems to worry about; with so many states coming out of the revolutions of the Arab Spring any large scale intervention would have to be led by a small number of its members (such as Saudi Arabia) and such unilateral sacrifice is unlikely.
            Turkey and Iran currently form a precarious balancing act of non-intervention (Turkey in support of the rebels and and Iran supporting Damascus) and any move by either party could bring two of the Middle East's major powers into confrontation. Therefore the idea of imposing sanctions and a wall of conflict interdiction may be a possible solution. Turkey has already had violence spread across its border following the trail of thousands of refugees; a military buffer zone is an easy solution. Quarantine would also work for the UNSC and other international bodies - hard enough to look good to the domestic audience without having to commit manpower or money for extended periods of time.
              On the entirely opposite end of the spectrum is full scale military involvement, probably following a similar vein as the earlier successful mission in Libya. Involved parties (Turkey, NATO, the UN or the League)   could push arms to the Free Syrian Army while using air and naval power to dominate the Syrian military. Cost effective, easy to extract from and generally low risk to personnel, this seems the best option from the point of view of the international actors. However, the likelihood of this being done is limited at best. Russia, one of Syria's greatest allies, would automatically veto any attempt to overthrow a friendly government in the UNSC and China would probably concur though on less nepotist grounds. Russia would also feature heavily in the decisions of NATO - attacking the ally of a dubious and powerful neighbour may not be a wise choice.
               While intervention may be the most humanitarian and even moral option, at the moment it seems unlikely. While their are a great number of choices in the grey area between the two extremes outlined above (economic sanctions, arms running, limited incursion) it seems that, for the moment at least the international community may not want to get too heavily involved in the political and military quagmire that is the Syrian civil war. Yes, they will voice their disgust and outrage frequently and loudly but in the end it is arguable that they will always ere on the side of caution.

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Today I saw this piece on Somalis condemning the move by Sierra Leone to deploy the first batch of AMISOM peacekeepers to join the forces of Uganda and Burundi on the ground in Somalia.

          Lumping the AMISOM forces in with those of Ethiopia and Kenya, it attacks this move as yet another invasion of Somalia. There are many things wrong which such an idea some of which I feel need to be pointed out. Firstly, this lumping together does not help anyone and is difficult to substantiate. Ethiopia and Kenya (though now nominally under AMISOM command) did invade Somalia and, whatever their aims or motives this will always be the case. On the other hand AMISOM is controlled not only by the AU but by the UN with strict rules governing it's actions. Even if you do not believe that these institutions are  there to help Somalia there is the simple fact that AMISOM could not hope to occupy or control territory with the number of men under it's command. It would be swiftly defeated, if not only by Somali forces but by the international community as well.
           Secondly, it must be remembered that Sierra Leone has had it's fair share, both of civil war and foreign troop occupation. After a horrific war broke out between the government and a collection of nasty rebel groups headed by the infamous RUF the country saw intervention from Executive Outcomes (a private military company formed of mainly UK and South African ex-special forces), the United Kingdom and the United Nations. Not only does Sierra Leone harbour no real ambitions that would damage Somalia it is mildly insulting for such accusations of invasion to be made.
         The fear of invasion is an issue that must be swiftly resolved before the issue gets out of hand. There is no clear way out of the political mess represented by Somalia but the last thing that is needed is infighting between Somalis and those of the AU who are there to try and help. The worst outcome of this perhaps is that the international community will move on to focus on another problem and leave Somalia to what would almost certainly be another protracted period of civil war.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

How Words Can Change The World (For The Worse)

During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries the fear of witches stalked Europe and North America. Thousands of innocent men and  women were denounced and executed by the Christian Church and it's quasi-secular political allies. No real proof was required and outsiders, rivals, dissidents and unfortunates were turned on, branded with a single word and because of that word were killed.
During the 20th century another word sprang into being - Communist. The same hysteria grew, the same fear that there were Commies hiding away waiting to take over and do evil things in the monarchies and republics of the Western world. The Red Scares demonstrate the fear the word created in people's minds. The first one attacked foreign immigrants, trade unionists and left-wing idealists. Fuelled by a xenophobic, sensationalist press any true threat to the US was blown out of all proportion. This led to the 1918 Sedition Act which allowed the deportation of political opponents and recent immigrants. Other legislation curtailed the freedom of speech and political action. The second, later, Red Scare fuelled fears of fifth columnists and Soviet spies in American society. Yet again, people were turned in, arrested and even deported for possible Communist ties.Huge investigations were launched inside government to grade the 'Americanism' of its employees and the new Smith Act required the registration of all foreign nations as well as criminalising any involvement with groups or individuals supporting the altering of any State by force or violence. This Act was not only deployed against possible Communists threats but also against German and Japanese Americans who were perceived to have been disloyal.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, what threat, what word, has arisen to fill this whole in public consciousness? Terrorism. The threat actually posed by Terrorism, as with magic and Communism, has been overstated and public fears have been fuelled to such a degree that the word has become a catch-all reason for huge military spending, the curtailment of civil liberties and even foreign invasion. Through the use of the symbol that Terrorism has now become the US government has allowed spying to be conducted on it's own citizens, created a huge and costly security apparatus a even legalised the detention with out trial, extradition and targeting killing of almost anyone, in almost every country just for the suspicion of Terrorism. Other states have fared no better with the UK today announcing that a new law may allow GCHQ to spy on suspects' Internet histories and emails. The word Terrorism has pushed governments to even further measures than any previous word has ever done before; it has even led to the US declaring war on it which, after the War on Drugs, is the second modern war against something a ephemeral and unquantifiable as a word.
Words have great power and great meaning loaded into them. To utter them can release huge swathes of emotion, feeling and response. Often such powerful words are uttered and great things have happened - Freedom, Equality, Justice. But, just as often such words, loaded with hate, ignorance and violence have led to terrible, horrible things happening. These are just a few examples from history but the list is huge - Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals, Slaves, Rebels, Christians, Muslims, Republicans, immigrants, Gypsies, Irish etc etc etc. People who have the ability for large numbers to hear their words must be especially careful; the casual or uninformed use of such powerful symbols can evoke huge and unimagined consequences. The curtailment of rights and freedom, arrest, persecution, violence, murder, execution, war, genocide; all of these have been practised on those labelled with a word, from Christians crucified by Roman invaders to the deaths of civilians in an attack by a US drone.We must understand the meanings that are ascribed to the words we so casually throw around without a second thought  because we might do good with our words but that is very hard when they are loaded with ignorance, intolerance and hate.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Got To love Dreamers Because Where Would We Be Without Dreams?

Mitt Romney has recently spoken out against a controversial Act which is being resubmitted to the houses after failing to pass in 2010. The so-called Dream Act allows undocumented migrants in their twenties to gain citizenship if they attend college, join the military and keep a clean criminal record. Immigration hard-liners are yet again spouting the same old arguments that immigrants are getting a free ride and such help is un-American. This is patently ridiculous and the Dream Act concept comes with some clear advantages:

  • It obviously reduces the number of illegal immigrants in America as well as giving incentives to not commit crime
  • By joining the military or higher education these young people get to employ their skills (which at the moment are useless) in service to the United States. This is by no means a free pass
  • Calling the bill in any way un-American because it impeaches on the idea of the American Dream is ridiculous. By naming them illegal you are removing them from the society in which people can achieve anything if they have the will to do so. Many of these young people want to find work and learn but they are stuck between a rock and a hard place and forces into unemployment, crime or illegal and unsafe work.
This stance has placed Mitt Romney at odds with the Latino voters of America who by-and-large support the bill. On his upcoming trip to California a mixed group of undocumented young people or 'Dreamers' and Latino voters are planning marches in San Diego, Los Angeles, Irving and San Francisco to 'unwelcome' him to the state.
Personally, I say good luck to them, because where would we be without dreams? Where would America be? People's dreams have led to many political changes in US history so why not now? 

To the dreamers I say - 'Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has' 

Quote: Margaret Mead

Monday, 26 March 2012

Kenyan Oil - New Oppertunity or New Niger Delta?

Kenya announced today that it had discovered oil deposits in its arid Northern region of Turkana. These deposits, possible bigger than those of local rival Uganda, may be an excellent economic opportunity for the country and a big boost to regional co-operation. However, Kenya must be careful of jumping to readily on the first offer that comes along. The example of the Niger Delta shows what can happen if oil companies take control of an area.
The people of the Delta have been systematically repressed, economically disenfranchised and often face violence and even death for going up against the international oil giants present in the region. The use of militias and PMCs to defend the oil production, a vital part of the Nigerian economy, has had terrible consequences. Little or no law governs the actions of either the companies or the PMCs meaning that the peoples rights are often ignored and their voices silenced. Environmentally the Niger Delta has been transformed in places from a thriving natural habitat into a toxic, stripped out mess where the traditional owners of the land can't live or farm.
This is an extreme place for Kenya to end up but it should act as a small warning to Kenya. By all means use this golden economic opportunity but be careful not to be so dazzled by the oil wealth that you forget your own people or their environment. Doing so may cost you more than a few constrictions on oil production and a bit of accountability.

Al Shabab may have a hidden agenda...

The news reports coming out of Somalia at the moment tend to show a certain amount of optimism. As the National Theatre reopens in Mogadishu the alliance of military forces opposing the fundamentalist Islamic group Al Shabab capture various strategic positions without too much of a fight.
In recent weeks the forces of the African Union AMISOM mission and the Transitional Federal Government have pushed out of Mogadishu for the first time and the towns of Baidoa, Beledwyne and Hudur have fallen to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces pushing from the West and South. The capture of the last strongholds around the port town of Kismayo seem likely and the collapse of Al Shabab's conventional military force would follow soon after. However, there is a longer game that must be considered. The tactic of falling back ahead of enemy forces has several clear strategic points behind it.
Firstly, through preserving their forces, Al Shabab are not throwing lives away needlessly against an enemy with superior air, land and intelligence support. Secondly, it shows that they understand both tactical and strategic considerations:
  • Strategically they know that these forces will not be in theatre for ever and fighting them now is pointless and damaging. This is especially true with Ethiopia who have already announced a pull-out date. Once these forces have been withdrawn then it is a much simpler and equal contest between Al Shabab and AMISOM/TFG.
  • Tactically, Al Shabab are demonstrating a combination of guerrilla and insurgency tactics in combating enemy conventional power. The use of ambushes pick away at the logistical capability and morale of the Ethiopian and Kenyan forces while IEDs and mortars are being used to damage AMISOM control of Mogadishu. These tactics are simple, cost-effective and endanger few if any members of the group.
  • It would appear that Al Shabab's objectives have shifted from defending their territory to a much more manageable attempt to remove the threat of the enemy troops by forcing their withdrawal. By using these morale-sapping techniques they want to convince the government and public of Ethiopia, Kenya and the AMISOM countries that further military involvement is too costly and that a pull-out is necessary.
  • By not fighting for the towns being taken they also avoid damage and civilian deaths being blamed on them, thus losing public support which they rely on. Instead, by maintaining clandestine operations within the population they boost such support and turn the population against the 'invading' troops. In a battle of 'hearts and minds' Al Shabab may have the upper hand when it comes to public support. 
Such ideas need to be discussed otherwise the allied forces may be walking into an insurgency they are not prepared for or capable of combating. This is especially true of Kenya who, with a poorly equipped and under-experienced army coupled with a lack of domestic support, could fall easy pray to the tactics described.

One Week Has Shown The Best And Worst Of African Politics

Today the news is filled with the domestic joy and international approval of a successful election as Senegalese President Wade steps down to election rival and Macky Sall. Protests sparked by Wade's re-election bid led to deaths and a real feeling of tension during the actual event and after the results were announced. However, the world breathed a sigh of relief as the president admitted defeat and graciously stepped aside leading to French President Sarkozy announcing 'Senegal is a major African country and a model of democracy.' While this is excellent news, both for Senagal and for African politics, it should not be forgotten that this euphoria of democratic success should not cover the other major African news story of the week.
The future of Mali is now in doubt as a bottom-up rebellion in the armed forces led to a successful coup against the democratically elected government after resentment built over it's handling of the uprising of Taureg militias in the North of the country. After capturing the national broadcasting station the rebels, led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, stormed the capital and presidential compound defeating loyalist troops. Today, Captain Sanogo announced that he was completely in control of the country and deplored the acts of vandalism and theft the had occured after the takeover, including by his own forces. On taking control, Sanago closed the border, suspended the constitution and promised the return of democratic elections only after the country had been secured. He has also offered peace negotiations with the Taureg forces calling them 'brothers'.
This has led to condemnation across the board. Internationally almost every major figure has criticised the actions and domestically a coalition of leading parties have come out in opposition and called for the elections due to be held in a couple of months. It is unclear whether Sanogo has the support of all the armed forces as, during the coup, he was followed by soldiers of the rank of Captain or lower.
The Mali coup represents the destruction of 20 years of democratic rule in a country that had until recently been heading for an international success story. While the AU and EU have suspended operations there, no further action action by either party or the UN has been announced as everyone waits to see what will happen next...

While The Western World Debates Gay Marriage, Turkey's Military Is Far From Following The Trend

In the Muslim world, Turkey has perhaps the most tolerant view of its gay population. It has bars and clubs in Istanbul with openly gay patrons and the only Pride march in the Middle East attracting more and more support each year. However, as the BBC reports, this openness has not reached their armed forces.
Military service is mandatory for every Turkish male over the age of 20 unless they are ill, disabled or homosexual; there is no civil right to conscientiously object. In a strange echo of the US's recently repealed 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, gay men can serve if they hide their sexuality as there is a belief that having gay men in the army would require seperate facilities such as dormetories, showeers and training areas. Proving that you are gay, and therefore gaining a 'pink certificate' of exemption is, however, humiliating and degrading. When called up for service, gay men must announce their sexuality to their commander who will decide what proof is needed (there is no set proof) which can involve photographic evidence. The BBC reveals that men have been asked for photos ranging from kissing another man to being (specifically) the passive participant in gay sex and wearing women's clothes! While the army denies it, many say these photos are kept on file afterwards.
Other men were also quizzed by their commanding officers, and the questions asked show the terrible lack of knowledge and outright prejudice of these officers:
  • 'They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore woman's clothes or used woman's perfume'
  • 'They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child'
Men's appearance was taken into consideration with overly masculine looking men accused of not being gay because they did not fit the stereotype. The Turkish Army still believes that homosexuality is an illness and forces military doctors to attempt to diagnose the "disease" using an incredibly outdated document from the American Psychiatric Assosiation produced in 1968!
The use of such an exemption (defined as a 'psychosexual issue') can have ramifications even after its been achieved. many men fear that the proof they had to give will be leaked to family, friends or their home villages. many employers ask about military service prior to hiring someone and a 'pink certificate' can lead to the lose of job prospects.
For a country which is so enlightened in so many areas of policy (in international development for example) the Turkish military's dogmatic and outdated view on homosexuality is as rediculous as it is worrying and should be of great cause for concern.


Monday, 12 March 2012

US Drone strikes may now be legal but are they right?

There has been a worrying move in recent weeks for the US to justify their use of drone warfare, not just in Afghanistan but also in other nations including Pakistan, Yeman, Somalia and the Philipines. They may be able to add de jure justification to their arsenal but have they truely considered the implications of their actions?
In the pursuit of victory in the elusive Global War On Terror (GWOT) the us justifies actions against Islamic fundementalist groups such as Al Qaeda and Al Shabab as legal under the international rules of war - the targeting of elected combatants within the defined theatre (in the GWOTs case the whole world). However, their blinkered view of their actions means they often miss the issue arising from following the warpath too closely.
Somalia is an excellent example; in the last few years the US has bnegun using drones, strike fighters and special forces operatives in an ongoing struggle against the terrorist group Al Shabab who control much of southern Somalia. In doing so, they argue they also help the Transitonal Ferderal Government and the forces of the African Union, kenya and Ethiopia in creating a secure Somalia. I would raise severla problems with this strategy:
  • The issue of sovereignty
  • The alienation of allies
  • The alienation of civilians
  • Military/aid balence
Somalia is the worlds worst 'failed state' and whether that is an agreeable label or not it presents certain facts. Somalia has no control over the legitimate use of force, over its territory and over its people. The only form of sovereignty existing in Somalia, indeed the only thin that really makes Somalia a state at all is the fact that it's border is supposedly protected under international law. The fact that this last shred of sovereignty was trodden into the dust under the combat boots of the invading Ethiopian and Kenyan armies does not mean that it should not give America pause for thought. If the aim is to help Somalia, a questionable statement in its own right, then abusing its sovereignty by deploying aerial and combat forces inside its borders without consent and conducting operations against its citizens, often with casualties, is a terrible way to go about it. It seems that America, and other guilty parties such as France, should take lessons from those states who actively support Somali sovereignty rather than riding roughshod over it in pursuit of selfish aims.

The US, in its hunt for terrorists, is also at risk of alienating allies and other states. Pakistan has already expressed dissatisfaction with the continued abuse of its border with Afghanistan by US forces and while one Somali minister went as far as welcoming air strikes the backlash against the statement may demonstrate that it is not the prevailing opinion. America does not have enough friends that it can afford to lose them over disputes about sovereignty and the abuse of military power.

Within the states targeted their is also an issue. Ordinary citizens fear American attacks because of the repeated loss of mass civilian life in US bombing raids. The lack of apology or restitution for these war-crimes-in-all-but-name has also turned feeling against the US, and against its allies. this can become a serious problem if America's casual and unapologetic killing of innocent people pushes citizens back into the arms of extremist groups and against democratic agents and governments.

The GWOT has also mean that one of the richest nations on Earth believes that military expenditure in the endless hunt for yet more extremists is a better way of 'helping' weak states than actually providing support and financial aid. In short America is conducting a war without boundaries or rules, a show conflict where they cannot be brought to account and paradoxically may be harming their cause more than helping it if they continue on this road of uncaring military force.