Tag: post-conflict security

The Complexities of Intervening in Syria

Syria

Well into the Syrian civil war the Assad regime has made a costly miscalculation by staging a significant chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and its allies have been wary of a full-scale military operation in Syria, but spurred by this attack they are now preparing to intervene. To succeed western allies must be focused not only on degrading Syrian capabilities but also on avoiding mistakes beyond the short term that they made in Libya and Iraq.

The U.S. needs to intervene with as much legitimacy as it can muster, which appears to have a fighting chance in Congress (though Congressional leaders would be unwise to hold any votes ahead of the impending report from UN weapons inspectors). But the Bush Administration’s legacy continues to take a toll when it comes to the credibility of the U.S., not only at home but around the world. David Cameron seriously miscalculated in this respect already, although odds are the House of Commons will back British involvement in a second attempt at authorization once the UN issues what is likely to be a game changing report. Despite Russia’s prevention of authorization from the UN Security Council, the growing certainty about Syria’s multi WMD use is sufficient justification in the eyes of numerous American allies starting with the French (a list that will grow with the declassification of additional evidence and the weight of the UN’s moral authority, if not in a UNSC resolution at least in a clarifying report).

The western operation, however, needs to go beyond a mere “shot across the bow.” To reestablish a deterrent effect for rogue regimes like Assad’s, the operation will need to be more decisive. Yet it is even more important for the West to degrade Syrian military capabilities enough to turn the tide in the war. Doing less would allow Assad to appear to be standing up to the West yet again. And whatever deterrent effect were regained, it would slowly fade as the civil war grinds on indecisively. Moreover the war has already spilled over the Turkish, Jordanian, and Lebanese borders, and is rapidly on its way to becoming a sectarian regional war that would harm the security interests of a long list of countries including the U.S.

Notwithstanding some high placed naysaying U.S. and western credibility are in fact at stake, not only in Tehran and Pyongyang but also in the redoubts of al-Qaeda’s increasingly active affiliates and Hezbollah–not to mention Moscow and Beijing. Most of all, the U.S.-led intervention as currently designed would be a missed opportunity to tilt events on the ground toward what is already a stated western aim: the removal of the Assad regime. The mass bloodshed and destabilization of a critical region need to be stopped, and the authority of the international community restored. Continue reading

Stability Ops Among Muggles

Foreign Policy‘s latest foray into the nexus between science fiction and political reality is a lively sketch on post-conflict reconstruction, Harry Potter style. Written by experts on the topic from the Marine Corps War College, Human Rights Watch and the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the key point is this: though the “story” ends when the bad guys are vanquished (be they Deatheaters or Saddam Hussein’s forces) is is then that the real battle begins.

Former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre and retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan have described four pillars of post-conflict reconstruction: security, governance and participation, urgent social and economic needs, and justice and reconciliation. Of these pillars, the magical world can currently afford to feel complacent about only one — social and economic needs. After all, with the proper application of scouring, mending, and engorgement charms, much of the physical damage wrought by the war can be repaired, and food can be multiplied to meet the needs of the population. But with respect to the other imperatives, critical challenges remain.

Surviving Death Eaters will have to be brought to justice or reintegrated into magical society. Long-standing rifts among magical communities that the war widened must be healed. Most of all, we must ensure that the values that triumphed in the final battle — tolerance, pluralism, and respect for the dignity of all magical and non-magical creatures alike — are reflected in the institutions and arrangements that emerge from the conflict. What ultimately matters is not just whether something evil was defeated, but whether something good is built in its place.

Brilliant article; I must say, however, that I’m not sure the same dilemmas of post-conflict reconstruction apply to the end of all conflicts in the same way. Invoking “the recent experience of American Muggles in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the piece would seem a rejoinder to Bush-era declarations of “Mission: Accomplished.” But the defeat of Voldemort is more like the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait than it is like the US’ invasion and occupation of the Middle East and Central Asia post-9/11.

Voldemort, after all, is the invader; he is simply repulsed. It’s not as if Hogwarts invades the Muggle world, wins, and then has to deal with all the thorny dilemmas of reconstituting Muggle society. Hogwarts basically just defended its own borders and identity. As such its reconstruction projects will be more like Kuwait’s in the absence of Saddam’s invading army (rebuilding walls and lives) than like those of the US in Iraq in the absence of the old order (rebuilding society itself from scratch).

Even in such instances, as Cynthia Enloe reminded us in her post-Gulf War book The Morning After, victory is never as straight-forward as it would seem. But how non-straight-forward may be a matter of significant degree.

Dr. Strangelove’s Mineshafts

What would the world be like after a nuclear attack of some type? That’s the question answered by the President’s National Security staff in the June 2010 second edition of the Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation.

I haven’t read the entire 130 page document, but I did read a chunk of it, as well as an interesting article about it by Ira Chernus, a professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Here’s the provocative opening paragraph that got me to click on his piece:

Good news! You’ve got a pretty good chance of surviving a terrorist’s nuclear blast in your city — especially if you’re a rich white man.

Chernus seems particularly interested in the fact that the Obama administration has produced this report — even though the first edition (available here) was issued on January 15, 2009, just before Barack Obama’s inauguration. Moreover, the original report noted that a future edition would do “additional work” on “relevant topics” such as “psychological impacts to the population.”

What does the second edition of the report say about psychiatric disorders — and why will rich white men inherit the world?


According to the latest report, attack survivors will realize they have severe ARS (“acute radition syndrome”) and many are doomed to develop psychiatric disorders as well. Among the “risk factors” listed, the National Security staff (pp. 95-6) includes female gender, ethnic minority, and lower socioeconomic status. In Chernus’s words, “once they [women, minorities and the poor] start going crazy they’re less likely to survive.” Here’s how the report (p. 96) phrases that last claim:

The social, psychological, and behavioral impacts of a nuclear detonation will be widespread and profound, affecting how the incident unfolds and the severity of its consequences.

Chernus compares the report’s frequent optimism about survival rates to Eisenhower-era policy discussions about civil defense. “The big problem, in his [Ike’s] view, was ‘how you get people to face such a possibility without getting hysterical.’”

Though the report concerns the likely aftermath of even a single terrorist nuclear use, the discussion of psychological response and potential survival rates reminded me instead of the prescient film Dr. Strangelove –made not long after Ike’s presidency ended.

Near the end of the film, President Merkin [a-hem] Muffley asks the title character the following question:

But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

The nuclear strategist Strangelove largely dismisses this particular psychological concern and asserts that the privileged white men in the room should be protected as priority survivors in the post-apocalyptic world:

Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy… heh heh…at the bottom of ah… some of our deeper mineshafts. The radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep. And in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided…

A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country. But I would guess… that ah, dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

…a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross section of necessary skills. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition.

By Dr. Strangelove’s reckoning, the female-to-male ratio in the mineshafts should be about 10-to-1 — and “women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” That’s a different post-war psychological concern, eh?

Indeed, the gender politics in the film are obviously quite provocative, essentially equating male sexual fantasies with war and nuclear planning. The latest Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation suggests that absurd nuclear fantasies continue to influence today’s security policymakers.

Looting and ethnic cleansing in comparative perspective

This morning the New York Times provides an interesting report on the Russian army and the lawlessness breaking out in the territory they control:

The identities of the attackers vary, but a pattern of violence by ethnic Ossetians against ethnic Georgians is emerging and has been confirmed by some Russian authorities. “Now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves,” said Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Borisov, the commander in charge of the city of Gori, occupied by the Russians.

A lieutenant from an armored transport division that was previously in Chechnya said: “We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding.”

The hostilities between Russia and Georgia started last week when the Georgian military marched into the disputed territory of South Ossetia, and the Russians responded by sending troops into the pro-Russia, separatist enclave and then into Georgia proper.

Dozens of houses were on fire on Tuesday in the northern suburbs of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Reporters saw armed men moving on the streets, carting away electronics and other household items. It was not clear who the men were. They did not appear to be part of the Russian forces, but the Russians were not stopping them.

We’re not a police force, we’re a military force,” said a Russian lieutenant colonel in response to a reporter’s question. “It’s not our job to do police work.”

Still, there was some evidence that the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging. A column of 12 men with their hands on their heads, several wearing uniforms, were marched into the Russian military base in Gori on Thursday afternoon. The identities of the men were unclear.

Kommersant, for its part, reports that the South Ossetians are now shooting “maurauders.”

As an emailer reminds me, it might be wise to compare the Russian lieutenant colonel’s comments (underlined above) to those of US officials after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. First, Donald Rumsfeld:

Declaring that freedom is “untidy,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday the looting in Iraq was a result of “pent-up feelings” of oppression and that it would subside as Iraqis adjusted to life without Saddam Hussein.

He also asserted the looting was not as bad as some television and newspaper reports have indicated and said there was no major crisis in Baghdad, the capital city, which lacks a central governing authority. The looting, he suggested, was “part of the price” for what the United States and Britain have called the liberation of Iraq.

“Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” Rumsfeld said. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.”

But much spookier are the quotations from a BBC report from back in May 2003:

Ali Thowani, 27, a pharmacist and former student of the institute, also tried reasoning with the Americans in English.

“I spoke to the Americans and they refused to protect the institution. ‘We’re not police and that’s not our job,’ they said.”

[…]

In a statement to BBC News Online, Centcom, the United States Central Command in Doha, Qatar, refused to accept responsibility for the event.

“The fact that the looting is happening in Nasiriya is a sad event. However, coalition forces are not a police force. Coalition forces have no orders to protect universities. They have orders to protect places of interest such as hospitals, museums and banks.

“Iraqis need to protect their own cities; coalition forces will help the Iraqi people police themselves. For example, in Al Kut – where people are cooperating with coalition forces – they have stood up a city police force. The coalition has even provided arms for the local police force. Iraqis will run Iraq and they will govern themselves.”

Now, none of this excuses the Russian if they’ve been actively supporting ethnic cleansing; nor does it mean that they don’t have a moral responsibility to stop acts of terror and violence perpetrated in areas they claim to be patrolling to “enforce” the peace treaty. In fact, what the US did or didn’t do in Iraq is pretty much irrelevant to whatever ethnic, legal, and moral obligations apply to Russian forces.

Still, anyone in the United States demanding an instant return to peacetime levels of security for individuals and their property should keep the US experience in Iraq in mind.

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