Tag: NATO (page 3 of 3)

The Short Career of Hakimullah Mehsud

In the latest round of the ongoing blood feud between the US military/intelligence agencies and the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or TTP), it appears that the TTP’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed by a Predator drone attack in mid-January. The assassination was apparently in “revenge” for the murder of seven CIA operatives at a forward operating base in Afghanistan by Hakimullah’s associate and Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Of course, Al-Balawi had claimed that his suicide bombing was in retaliation for the assassination of the former leader of the TTP, Baitullah Mehsud, by a CIA drone in August 2009. The US and Pakistan targeted Baitullah Mehsud because he was allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 and a series of suicide bombings and armed attacks in Pakistan. Baitullah had claimed that his attacks were only in retaliation for US drone attacks facilitated by the American puppet regime in Pakistan… Thus the origins of this blood feud recede into a murky history of drone attacks and suicide bombing counter-attacks.

To understand the feud, one needs to appreciate that the relatively precise and virtually unstoppable suicide bomber is considered the military equivalent of the predator drone in the eyes of the Taliban. Hence, there is a cycle of carnage unleashed with each drone attack.

So who was this latest target, Hakimullah Mehsud? Should his death be considered a significant victory in the war?

Haikmullah (also known as Zulfiqar; real name: Jamshed) Mehsud was reportedly first captured and interrogated by Western forces (either NATO or CIA) in the Shawal district of North Waziristan in a raid on March 9th, 2007 according to Pakistani and Chinese media agencies. The illegal incursion by two military helicopters into Pakistani territory led to the ritualized faint murmurs of protest and indignation from the Pakistani government. NATO would later deny any involvement in the kidnapping without denying that the incident may have happened. At the time, Hakimullah was merely known as a cousin and confidante of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the TTP. Through an apparent “catch and release” policy for junior terrorists, Hakimullah was let go.

Although he was most likely illiterate, the young and handsome (in a swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow-ish sort of way) Mehsud became a spokesman for the TTP organization. He appeared on a local news station (Khyber News) in October 2008 to refute rumors of the death of his cousin. He then transferred from the Taliban’s communications desk to become a commander in the field. By November 2008, he rose to become the head of the Taliban in the Orakzai, Khyber, and Kurram Agencies of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). However, even as he rose in the ranks of the Taliban, he continued to hold press conferences and grant interviews to local journalists — a sharp contrast with his introverted cousin, Baitullah. The brash commander particularly enjoyed showing off the Humvee he had captured from NATO forces by raiding their supply lines.

Despite his oddly charming personality, it was clear that Hakimullah was also ruthless. He claimed to have had several men beheaded for spying on the Taliban. He instituted a strict interpretation of sharia’ and enforced a ban on the movement of women outside of their homes in the Orakzai Agency.

The first attempt by the US to kill Hakimullah with a Predator drone was in April 2009. In revenge for this failed attempt, Mehsud unleashed a wave of suicide attacks and threatened that there would be at least two suicide bombings per week in retaliation.

Hakimullah was appointed to head the TTP network by a shura (council) after the assassination of his cousin by a drone in August 2009. Notably, Hakimullah held a press conference flanked by his new lieutenants to announce his promotion and he vowed to avenge the drone attack … a vow that his associate, al-Balawi, helped him to fulfill on the last day of 2009. Hakimullah would live for only one more month as American drones narrowed in on him.

At the end of the day the short three year career of the brash and ruthless Mehsud is relatively inconsequential in the broader war. The contrast between Hakimullah and his predecessor only illustrates the wide range of personality types which can assume a leadership position within the Taliban. The skill set Hakimullah used to lead the Taliban organization in the field were not particularly unique or demanding — he was little more than an illiterate, brutal, and narcissistic gangster.

When the camera pans back from the current assassination, it is clear the overall US strategy of leadership decapitation has failed to make a noticeable dent in the operational capacity of the organizations and networks that call themselves the Taliban. If anything, the Taliban appear to be growing bolder on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. For each commander who is killed, a new leader will rise and take his place after a short period of disorganization. The Pakistani government and media hypes each new leader (while selectively ignoring other militant “assets”), transforming a small fish into a whale; the leader comes to the attention of American forces which begin plotting an assassination with the assistance of Pakistani officials and local informants. After a few failed attempts and some collateral damage, which embitters the local population and helps to recruit more militants, the US usually succeeds in bringing down their man. The Americans trump their kill as a success in the war. Unfortunately, very little is actually accomplished as the cycle resets with each successful assassination, the structural positions are re-loaded, and the game begins again.

A leadership decapitation strategy only makes sense when one is confronted with a highly centralized organization led by a small number of capable leaders and a mass of fighters with low morale — this is clearly not the situation of the organizations and networks targeting Americans and their client regimes in South Asia. The US military and intelligence community continues to confuse a policy of revenge killings for a viable military strategy to defeat a broad based and conscious rebellion.


Before they disappear into the ether

I’ve been fairly prolific lately. This state of affairs stems, in part, from what I’ve been working on for the last couple days: copy editing page proofs, which amounts to one of the dullest things I’ve done in furtherance of my career. Ever.

Moreover, as I’m sure is the case for at least some of our readers, my mind has been colonized by two pressing developments: the final innings of the 2008 US Presidential campaign and the potential collapse of the neoliberal economic order. Both are doing their part to tap into my “outrage” receptors, and blogging seems to be the only effective way to prevent total overload.

But all of this has not been without cost.

As I ramp up production of short posts of varrying quality, I push some excellent work by the rest of the Duck crew towards the internet ether’s edge. I’ve also neglected to mention some important developments related to my more usual topics. So, without further to do, here are just a few posts at the Duck that, if you’ve missed, you should check out. I’ll even throw in an article or so that I was going to blog about but didn’t (or, at least, haven’t yet).

1. Peter’s “Barak Obama and the Renewal of American Hegemony.”

2. Charli’s mind altering Measuring Linguistic Norms” and her traffic generating “Robot Soldiers v. Autonomous Weapons: Why It Matters.”

3. Rodger’s “al Qaeda’s electioneering.” I should note that Rodger scooped the blogsplosive Five Thirty Eight. Take that, Nate Silver.

Now, onto articles external to the Duck…

1. NATO will now target opium production in Afghanistan. On the one hand, they need to do something. The Taleban extract large rents from the trade. On the other hand, this kind of interdiction has a lousy track record. It might make more sense to just buy up the crop at market price, and thereby cut the Taleban out.

2. Joshua Foust has a great post on the Shindand Bombing. Go read it.

3. Fred Weir of The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting piece on the fallout of Russia’s military showing in Georgia. Although the Russians crushed the Georgians, they’re not particularly happy about their performance.

“Russia has changed a lot lately, and the spirit in the country is different from what it used to be,” says Lt. Gen. (Ret) Gennady Yevstasyev, a senior adviser to the PIR Center, an independent security think tank in Moscow. “The public will now support major military reform, even if it entails financial hardship. Many things that were stalemated for years will now move forward.”

Already, Russian defense budgets are set to leap next year to a post-Soviet record of over $50 billion. Similar jumps are projected for coming years as well.

The fresh increases, announced by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in late September, are in addition to a special $200-billion procurement program aimed at restoring the country’s degraded strategic forces.

Mr. Arbatov argues that Russia’s military problems run deeper than just two decades of neglect. “There is no political leadership over military organization. Nor is there any democratic control. The system needs to be changed,” he says.

Russian forces entering South Ossetia lacked even basic intelligence regarding Georgian artillery positions and troop deployments, which led several of their leading units into costly ambushes. In one surprise attack, the 58th Army’s senior commander, Gen. Anatoly Khrulyev, was badly wounded and had to be evacuated.

In a desperate effort to get information, the Russians sent an electronic reconnaissance version of the Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber over the battlefield and it got shot down. In all, Russia lost four planes, including three Sukhoi Su-25 attack fighters to unexpectedly effective Georgian air defenses. Some Russian commanders reported using cellphones to communicate with their units when their own radios failed.

Additionally, the tanks deployed by the Russian Army did not have night sights for their guns, and the reactive armor designed to protect them from Georgian antitank weapons proved unreliable.

But of particular interest to me were Andrei Klimov’s comments about NATO and NATO expansion.

Moscow does not feel any immediate threat from the West, say military analysts, despite increased tensions over US missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe and the projected expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union.

“We regard NATO as a dangerous organization, but right now it’s not so strong,” says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the State Duma’s international affairs committee. “The problem is that NATO will become more dangerous if it includes countries like Georgia and Ukraine. In the cold war, when only the US and Western countries were in NATO, it was stable and predictable. We have enough resources to defend ourselves at present, but in the future we will need to think about this.”

I suppose some of my colleagues would code Russian behavior as “not balancing.” But I think the case is getting more and more difficult to make that some of the world is not pushing back.


Putin’s revenge

Because one good Kosovo deserves another (or two)?

Russia’s parliament has backed a motion urging the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both houses voted unanimously in favour of the non-binding motion, which analysts say could help President Dmitry Medvedev in talks with the West.

The UK, Germany and Italy were among the nations expressing concern that the vote would further raise tensions.

The (rather unsurprising) move comes as the US and NATO “[step] up pressure” on Moscow to pull out of the territory it still holds in “Georgia proper.”

US destroyer carrying relief supplies arrived at a Black Sea port in Georgia, a sign of US support that provided a conspicuous display of NATO military might. The USS McFaul dropped anchor off Batumi, 50 kilometres south of the Russian-occupied port of Poti, the first of three ships carrying aid to help Georgia deal with about 100,000 displaced people.

A Russian general accused NATO countries at the weekend of using humanitarian aid as “cover” for a build-up of naval forces in the Black Sea, heightening tension. Russia withdrew tanks, artillery and hundreds of troops from their most advanced positions in Georgia on Friday, saying it had fulfilled all obligations.

But Russian troops still control access to Poti, south of the Moscow-backed rebel region of Abkhazia, and have set up other checkpoints around South Ossetia, where the conflict began. The peace plan negotiated by France has been interpreted differently by Russia and the West, with Russia saying it has the right to leave peacekeepers deep inside Georgia.

Indeed, a number of news services are reporting a “tense standoff” between Georgian and South Ossetian forces over the village of Mosabruni:

Georgian and South Ossetian forces were in a tense stand-off on Monday over control of a disputed village on the edge of the breakaway region, according to Georgian and separatist officials.

Georgian and Russian troops fought a brief war in the region earlier this month and are now observing a fragile ceasefire.

Georgian officials said the village of Mosabruni was not part of separatist-controlled territory and alleged the separatists were planning a provocation against Georgian special forces who had been deployed there.

The separatist administration said the village was within South Ossetia and the Georgian forces were there unlawfully. It accused Tbilisi of massing armed men in preparation for an attack.

“According to our information, South Ossetian militias want to take this village. Our forces got the order not to shoot, but if Ossetians start shooting they will have to return fire,” Kakha Lomaia, Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, told Reuters.

Lomaia said the atmosphere in the majority Georgian-populated village was “very tense”. He declined to say exactly when Georgian forces had returned there.

For good measure, the vice president’s coming to town.

… This has been your friendly reminder that it isn’t safe to go back to ignoring the Caucasuses, and that it certainly “isn’t over” when the fat Cheney sings.


Georgia: The Reuters “Bullet Points” and some of my own (updated)

I knew that CNN did this, but so, apparently does Reuters. Who needs blog updates?

* Reuters reporter sees Russian tanks leave Georgian city
* Russia says additional “peacekeeping” posts needed
* NATO calls on Russia to respect ceasefire and pull out
* Moscow says Georgia planning attacks inside Russia

Anyway, there are growing signs of ethnic cleansing and targeted violence against Georgians, not only in South Ossetia but also in cities such as Gori.

NPR reported this morning that the Russians did eventually move to protect civilians against South Ossetian looters, but that Georgian villages in South Ossetia were being bulldozed as part of an effort to “erase” them from the landscape.

NATO issues another threat: no normal relations with Russia until its troops retreat from Georgia proper.

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said no co-operative programmes had been axed yet “but this issue will have to be taken into view”.

The Russian military has warned that the withdrawal process will be slow until the weekend at least, and that troops will remain in an undefined buffer zone around South Ossetia.

It says such a move is permitted under the ceasefire deal which allows Russia to take additional security measures until international peacekeepers are deployed.

But Georgia says Moscow is going much further and that Russian troops have seized control of a key commercial port in Poti in an attempt to cripple the Georgian economy.

… And NATO promises to strengthen connections with Georgia

I’m sure the Russians are quaking in their boots. Seriously, Rice apparently wants sanctions. But, as of 2007 (PDF):

… the EU relies on Russia for more than 30 percent of its oil imports and 50 percent of its natural gas imports. This dependence is not distributed evenly. As one heads eastward, Russia’s share of the energy supply grows ever larger. No fewer than seven eastern European countries receive at least 90 percent of their crude oil imports from Russia, and six EU nations are entirely dependent on Russia for their natural gas imports.

While Russian oil and gas pretty much has to flow into Europe, and the Europeans could, in theory, buy elsewhere, the impact on energy markets of a significant reduction in Russian supply would be devastating. And Russia has something like $597.5 billion in foreign reserves and $162 billion in its stabilization fund. So what, exactly, are the Europeans supposed to do that would have any meaningful bite?

Should be interesting.


A Conflict of position and maneuver (updated … and updated again … with photoshop-esque graphic)

Russia, NATO, Georgia, the Abkhaians… everyone, sensing the final draw-down of the immediate crisis, is trying to, variously, make sense of what it all means, maximize their long-term position, or just stay afloat.

One can only imagine how this is playing out within the Russian military. By this point, just about everyone is saying the same thing: the Russian air force underperformed.

Early reports indicate that pipelines running through Tbilisi from the Caspian Sea oil fields were targeted unsuccessfully by the Russian air force, which employed front-line Tu-22M3 bombers in the conflict. The stout Georgian air defenses, one of the few effective elements of the country’s military, have shot down some Russian Su-25s with shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), say European-based U.S. officials. The heavier SA-11 Buk-1M also appears to have contributed to the Frogfoot strike-fighter losses and was certainly the cause of the Backfire bomber’s loss, say U.S.-based analysts.

These problems may increase the pressure on the Russian military establishment to move away from a highly autarkic defense industry. If I understand matters correctly, Russian procurement of foreign components remains limited, despite Russia’s available cash; buying more “foreign stuff”–to supplement what they already do well–would improve a host of Russian military capabilities.

Regardless, I find it interesting that the Russians utilized what their own revolution-in-military-affairs theorists used to call “remote-strike complex” tactics, and that these worked pretty well… even without the level of integrated capabilities enjoyed by the United States.

But, for our purposes, the more significant developments have less to do with bureaucratic politics and more to do with foreign and strategic policy.

The Russians have announced the their forces have begun pulling out of the “combat zone,” (but don’t appear to be packing their bags yet). Numerous sources report the movement of significant forces into South Ossetia, including SS-21 batteries of the type that the Russians apparently used against Georgia during the “short war.” In conjunction with Russian exercises simulating a cruise-missile attack on Georgia, it looks like a good bet that the Russians intend to continue to put heavy military pressure on Tblisi–and to ensure that they can move even more quickly against Georgia if they so choose.

It isn’t surprising that some commentators worry about the “Finlandization” of Georgia (an unlikely development so long as the current regime lasts… but that’s another matter).

Meanwhile, Rice is on her way to an emergency meeting of NATO. She’ll also swing by Warsaw for the signing of the new missile-defense basing agreement. Steven Erlinger provided a good discussion of NATO’s challenges in yesterday’s International Herald Tribue:

NATO foreign ministers are to gather Tuesday for an emergency meeting on the Russia-Georgia crisis, with the United States looking for more than symbolic gestures, Europe divided and arguments rampant over how to deal with Ukraine.

He continues:

The differences show how hard it is for NATO and Europe to find significant and concrete leverage on Moscow, with the Bush Administration on its last legs and many in Europe blaming the Georgian leadership – supposedly made unrealistic by overenthusiastic American support – as much for the crisis as they do Putin.

“The big Western debate is whether this is about Georgia or Russia,” said Ronald Asmus, director of the Brussels Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund. “Those who want to contain the damage say that Georgia is a little country, partly to blame, and not worth the confrontation with Moscow. Then there are those who say this is really about Russia and the rules of the game for Europe writ large, for the Caspian energy corridor and the right of small countries to choose their own path.”

The European dilemma is clear, said Clifford Kupchan, a director of the Eurasia Group in Washington. “How do they square their increasing energy dependence on Russia with their increasing political discomfort with Putin? It’s a very hard circle to square,” he said.

There are of course the divisions between “old and new Europe” – roughly Western and Eastern Europe, Kupchan said, with new Europe, backed by Britain and Scandinavia, taking a harder line toward Russia, while old Europe “will only be reinforced in its view that Georgia and Ukraine are not ready for NATO.”

After Russia’s behavior, said Jacques Rupnik, a political scientist and Eastern Europe expert at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, “there is little disagreement now in Europe about the nature of the new Russia.”

Those Europeans “who didn’t get it before are getting it now,” Rupnik said. But Europe is divided about what to do about Russia, taking comfort, as usual, “in the idea of mediating between Washington and Moscow.”

This is not Europe’s fight, said Stefan Kornelius, foreign editor and columnist for Süddeustche Zeitung. “Europe is torn between old and new Europe. But I don’t see Europe prepared to go to war with itself over Georgia. The European foreign ministers sense this is too big for them, and they will in the end align themselves with the United States, while trying to affect policy.”

The Americans are looking for concrete gestures to punish and warn Russia – perhaps suspending or even canceling the NATO-Russian Council, or as Asmus, formerly a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration suggested, “fast-tracking NATO membership for Ukraine.”

NATO could also begin formal defense planning, including putting in military infrastructure, to defend new NATO members like the Baltic nations and Poland against even a hypothetical war with Russia.

As a gesture to the Russia of President Boris Yeltsin, who grudgingly accepted NATO expansion, Asmus said: “NATO never developed military plans to defend Central and Eastern Europeans, because we said, ‘Russia’s not an enemy and not a threat,’ and we never backed up the new members with exercises and infrastructure.”

During the 1990s, NATO repurposed itself as the military-alliance wing of a democratic security community, a kind of “advance man” for the European Union, and then spent a lot of time trying to figure out how–and under what conditions–it would act as peace-enforcement and intervention force rather than simply a defensive alliance.

Many wondered if, in the face of mixed performance in Afghanistan and an apparent wavering of commitment to that operation by some member states, NATO would not so much die as join the ranks of the undead: a kind of Zombie organization shambling forward without direction or purpose. Now, suddenly, NATO has to decide whether, and to what degree, it wants to take up its core mission again.

To state the obvious, NATO members need to somehow:

1. maintain cohesion;
2. decide what constitutes the unequivocal line in the sand for the alliance; and
3. start thinking about what kind of defense policy they need to effectuate the various gradients of their strategic interests.

As of now, the second and third tasks threaten the first. NATO members continue to disagree on what that line in the sand should be (the Ukraine?* the loss of Georgian independence? The boundaries of the current alliance?). They have different ideas about the tradeoff between, on the one hand, enhancing NATO’s defense and deterrence posture and, on the other hand, undermining the chance to rebuild Russia-NATO cooperation on the not insignificant issues of common interest between them. And, of special note, European energy interdependence with Russia–on both the supply and distribution front–complicate matters even further.

These differences require compromises and concessions. The US need to avoid attempting to ram its vision down NATO’s throat via a coalition with member states from the former Soviet bloc. Other members–and the Germans in particular–need to realize that Russia’s relations with the west require a new form of pragmatism that amounts to more than “don’t piss them off.”

[… and, in that vein, I can’t believe I missed the content of Merkel’s recent statements in Georgia:

“Georgia will never give up a square kilometer of its territory,” Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told a news conference alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel, the latest Western leader to visit Tbilisi and offer support for the country he has led on a pro-Western path, seeking to shake off a history of domination by Moscow.

“I expect a very fast, very prompt withdrawal of Russian troops out of Georgia,” Merkel said in a courtyard at Saakashvili’s official residence. She reiterated a Western promise that Georgia will eventually join NATO, but said she could not say when that would happen.

Finally, a key part of NATOs “grand strategy” must include revitalizing and reopening forms for institutional cooperation with the Russians. NATO and the United States need to show that they can cooperate with the Russians, which means, I submit, not blocking Russian ascension into the WTO or even, for the time being, reverting the G8 back into the G7. Such measures, no matter how satisfying for some, do nothing to help–and may likely hinder–NATO’s ability to meet its key challenges.

Of course, if the Russians don’t leave Georgia proper relatively soon, then some of these options start to make sense.

*Things are getting very interesting in Ukraine. Kiev says it will participate in the US BMD system and President Victor Yushchenko has accused Prime Minister (and rival) Yulia Tymoshenko of collaborating with Russia.

… M K Bhadrakumar, a former Indian Diplomat, provides an interesting take on China’s position to the crisis in the Asia Times.

As of Monday night on the US east coast, a number of independent reports claim that the Russians remain very close to Tblisi. A number of opposition groups in Georgia are endorsing NATO membership for the country.

US rhetoric continues to heat up:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Russia is playing a “very dangerous game” with the U.S. and its allies and warned that NATO would not allow Moscow to win in Georgia, destabilize Europe or draw a new Iron Curtain through the continent.

But with no sign of Russia withdrawing its troops from Georgia despite a pledge to do so and indications it has moved short-range ballistic missiles into the disputed area of South Ossetia, it was unclear how the alliance would make good on Rice’s vow.

On her way to an emergency NATO foreign ministers meeting on the crisis, Rice said the alliance would punish Russia for its invasion of Georgia and deny its ambitions by rebuilding and fully backing Georgia and other Eastern European democracies.

“We are determined to deny them their strategic objective,” Rice told reporters aboard her plane, adding that any attempt to re-create the Cold War by drawing a “new line” through Europe and intimidating former Soviet republics and ex-satellite states would fail.

“We are not going to allow Russia to draw a new line at those states that are not yet integrated into the trans-Atlantic structures,” she said, referring to Georgia and Ukraine, which have not yet joined NATO or the European Union but would like to.

Rice could not say what NATO would eventually decide to do to make its position clear but said the alliance would speak with one voice “to clearly indicate that we are not accepting a new line.”

Moscow, in what may be the international equivalent of a “you can’t fire me, I quit” move, says it will “review” its relationship to NATO.

Although I’m obviously not in favor of Russia undermining democratic governments, I do think it is always useful to consider how one side’s signals might be interpreted by the other side. In that spirit, I present the following illustration:


Speaking of signals, mixed and otherwise – updated (yet again)

… Big news just came down the pike.

Courtesy of a friend, I learn that Poland has agreed to host US ballistic-missile defenses.

As geopolitical lines harden, the question becomes if Russia’s actions will drive a wedge between NATO members that embrace a harder or a softer line towards Russia. Or will balance-of-threat dynamics lead to renewed NATO cohesion? I suspect the answer is far from preordained: a great deal depends on how US and European diplomacy plays out.

Oh, and forget the G8/G7. This is the kind of thing the Russians might actually see as a significant negative consequence of the Georgia conflict.

Oops. I forgot to mention the Patriots the US is giving Poland. I guess the US decided to “pay” what Poland wanted. Still, the Russians might be more upset about the Patriots than the BMD ….

Via a different friend, two excerpts from news reports. The first from Reuters:

President George W. Bush’s pledge to send aid to Georgia means that theU.S. military will take control of the ex-Soviet state’s ports andairports, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday.

But the Pentagon denied it planned any such action to proceed with deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“You have heard the statement by the U.S. president that the United States is starting a military-humanitarian operation in Georgia,” Saakashvili said in a television address.

“It means that Georgian ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. defence ministry in order to conduct humanitarian and other missions. This is a very important statement for easing

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: “We are not looking to, not do we need to, take control of any air or seaports to conduct this mission.

In his White House remarks, Bush said he had ordered the U.S. military to deliver humanitarian aid. A C-17 aircraft with supplies was on its way to Georgia and in the days to come Washington would use military aircraft and naval forces to make deliveries.

And, from the Washington Post:

Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on Russian radio, sounded unconcerned about White House threats that Russia could suffer a chill in relations with the West because of its incursion into Georgia.

“I don’t know how they are going to isolate us,” Lavrov said during an interview on radio station Echo Moskvy. “I have heard threats that we are not going to be admitted to the [World Trade Organization], but we see clearly that nobody is going to admit us there anyway,” he said. His remarks were translated by the Interfax news service. “Excuse my language, but they’re just stringing us along.”

I have a paper to finish, so analysis from me will be sparse for a bit. Maybe some of our readers can provide their own in comments?

… Itar-Tass reports that the South Ossetian and Abkhazian “foreign ministers” will soon be traveling to Moscow to discuss recognition of their independence (or, perhaps, their status as “republics” within Russia?).


Georgian dreams

My offhand comment about Jaap de Hoop Scheffer’s warnings to Russia over its increased activity in Abkhazia has, thanks to Rob Farley, produced some interesting commentary.

Matthew Yglesias fails to sugar coat his take:

It would be appallingly stupid for the United States or our other key allies to put anything whatsoever on the line for the sake of Georgia’s efforts to reassert control over its rebellious province. The question of maintaining a good relationship with an important country, Russia, versus standing up for the independence of Russia’s neighbors poses some tough dilemmas. But when the issue is Georgia’s effort to rule over a province that by all indications doesn’t want to be ruled by Tblisi, the dilemma really isn’t difficult at all. We should just stay far, far, far away from this dispute and try to make it clear to our friends in Georgia that we don’t encourage them to do anything stupid.

Joshua Keating disagrees:

think it’s wishful thinking on Yglesias’s part to pretend that this has nothing to do with US foreign policy. Abkhazia isn’t just some obscure, post-Soviet backwater conflict that emerged on its own. Russia’s recent actions — normalizing trade relations and sending hundreds of “peacekeepers” into the region — were taken in direct response to Western recognition of Kosovo and talk of NATO expansion. Telling Georgia that it has to resolve this issue on its own before we’ll even think about NATO membership is basically an open invitiation for Putin to continue meddling.

I agree that tradeoffs and concessions will have to be made with an increasingly assertive Russia, and Georgia’s territorial integrity may be less of a priority than other goals. But being willing to make concessions is not the same thing as looking the other way when Russia responds to U.S. and EU policy by annexing territory from Western allies. I don’t really see why de Hoop Scheffer saying that Georgia and Russia “should engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de-escalate tensions” is some sort of bombastic provocation.

For the record, the Georgians have put quite a bit on the line to help the United States reassert control in Iraq with the hope that they might gain NATO membership in return. That gambit is starting to look “appallingly stupid.”

As I’ve argued before, one basic problem for the United States and NATO is that Saakashvili’s government tends to view signals of western support as a justification for a harder line on Abkhazia. Another is that anyone with a brain knew how Abkhazia and Russia were likely to react to Kosovo independence: if the U.S. and the Europeans can dismember Serbia, then why can’t Abkhazia have its independence as well? The Russians view themselves as playing the same game as the United States and many of the Europeans. And, in many respects, they are.

At the most basic level, the chances of Abkhazia ever rejoining Georgia are close to nill, while the lack of resolution to the conflict makes Georgian accession to NATO very risky for the alliance. There are options short of fully sovereign independence, membership in the Russian Federation, or a return to Georgia for Abkhazia, but finding them and making the stick will require a great deal of creative thinking. It may be that part of the package should include MAP for Georgia.

Georgia warms the hearts of many US foreign-policy wonks. It’s a quasi-democratic country, run by a man with a western education who knows how to say all the right things, and the US even backed the “color revolution” (the “Rose Revolution,” to be precise) that brought him to power. And Georgia wants to be both a US client and a major strategic asset. What’s not to like?

It isn’t hard to see why the Georgians want to be Uncle Sam’s outpost in the Caucuses. The Russians consider Georgia to be part of their sphere of influence, and border Georgia on the north. Their southern neighbor, Armenia is more or less a Russian client.

Does greater integration of Georgia into Europe and the Atlantic Community make sense? Certainly. But the US and Europe need to proceed with extreme caution, as they need to juggle a wide range of potential downsides: from further antagonizing Russia to inadvertently increasing the chances of armed conflict.


In other news

Our US readers might be surprised to learn that there are, in fact, happenings not associated with the 2008 Presidential race. So I thought I would point out that:

Sudan is on the brink of renewed war between the north and south.

NATO has issued checks that it probably can’t cash regarding the Georgia-Russia “cold” conflict over Abkhazia.

• Zimbabwe’s “free and fair” second-round elections continue to be, uh, not so free and fair.

And in the “someone is wrong on the internet” category, we return to the US Presidential race:

The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has just wrapped up what it considers to be a fair and just solution to the problem of Florida and Michigan delegates. How the Committee managed to not give Florida 100% representation at the convention is beyond bizarre. The Florida Democratic party was outmaneuvered and disenfranchised by the Republican controlled legislature and now they have been disenfranchised by the Democratic Party as well.

The solution was to seat all delegates but only give each of them half a vote. This effectively makes the vote of each Floridian delegate less representative than slaves were at the foundation of our democracy. For the math illiterate 1/2 is less than 3/5.

I am so *^&%@!& happy the primaries are over. I’m sick of Democratic bloggers exposing their own racism, sexism, and historical ignorance for everyone to see.


NATO enlargement: who’s fooling whom?

How should one account for President Bush’s April 1, 2008 speech at the NATO summit? In my view, either those who drafted the speech went a bit too crazy with the Control-X and Control-V buttons, or they just don’t care if he makes transparently inconsistent arguments.

Bush on missile-defense deployments in Eastern Europe:

“This week President Putin is planning to attend his first NATO summit and later this week I plan to travel to Sochi, Russia, for further talks on this and other matters. In our discussions, I will reiterate that the missile defense capabilities we are developing are not designed to defend against Russia just as the new NATO we are building is not designed to defend against Russia. The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. We are working toward a new security relationship with Russia whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation.”

Bush on MAP for Georgia and Ukraine:

“This week, our Alliance must also decide how to respond to requests by Georgia and Ukraine to participate in NATO’s Membership Action Plan. These two nations inspired the world with their Rose and Orange revolutions and now they are working to consolidate their democratic gains and cement their independence. Welcoming them into the Membership Action Plan would send a signal to their citizens that if they continue on the path of democracy and reform they will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe. And it would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states. Here in Bucharest, we must make clear that NATO welcomes the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine for membership in NATO and offers them a clear path forward toward that goal. So my country’s position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plan. And NATO membership must remain open to all of Europe’s democracies that seek it, and are ready to share in the responsibilities of NATO membership.”

So, let’s take a quiz. Who, exactly, might the Bush Administration believes constitutes a threat to Ukrainian and Georgian “independence”?

a) Moldova and Azerbaijan, respectively
b) Svalbard
c) The Robots
d) The European Union
e) Russia


a) -15 points, b) 5 points, c) 5 points, d) 10 points, e) 1,030,053,021 points

Ranking your foreign-policy acumen:

-15 to 0 points: Okaaaay….
1 to 5 points: Plausible, but unlikely
6 to 20 points: Oddly plausible
21 to 1,030,053,041 points: Does anyone really buy the stuff they’re selling?


Exploiting the unipolar moment, part I

The United States has decided to strongly back the Ukrainian and Georgian bids to begin the process of becoming NATO members.

Despite fierce objections from Russia, the United States is pushing NATO to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Georgia at an alliance summit meeting in Bucharest in April, diplomats said Wednesday.

The U.S. pressure is likely to lead to divisions inside the 26-member alliance, with Germany and several West European countries opposed to offering Ukraine and Georgia the prospect of imminent membership. Washington and several East European countries say the alliance should not give in into threats by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who this week warned his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, that if Ukraine were to join NATO, Russia might aim nuclear missiles at the country.

Bruce Jackson, president of both the Project on Transitional Democracies and the U.S. Committee on NATO group, said NATO should not be intimidated by Russia. “These countries want to join NATO,” he said. “They can do the required reforms. This is about extending the Euro-Atlantic alliance.”

I’ll have more to say about Ukraine in a subsequent post. For now, let me just say that this strikes me as a bad idea.

1. I don’t see a great deal of evidence to suggest NATO ascension locks in desired domestic political institutions and orientations. Most of the evidence for NATO’s “success” in this regard comes from Baltic and Eastern European countries–Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and so forth–that were also, not long afterwards, involved in the European Union ascension process. NATO membership can reform their militaries, but EU ascension brings with it much more intrusive–and effective–restructuring of key domestic institutions.

2. Bringing Ukraine and Georgia in might extend western influence over their security policies, but it also carries great risks. The Russians already amount to a cornered bear. I don’t think that NATO should be poking and prodding a cornered bear, particularly when that bear is starting to flex its muscles. Georgia, in this respect, represents a particularly risky candidate. The Georgians are involved in “frozen” territorial disputes with breakaway provinces–such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia–backed by Russia. They’d really like to take them back, they really want de jure independence, and the Russians would love to stop them. Georgian President Saakashvili also seems to feel emboldened by their existing ties with the United States, and a road to NATO membership may make them feel even more willing to push these matters. Not a favorable entanglement, given the lack of any clear strategic rationale for Georgian membership.

3. This is already a bad time for NATO cohesion, in part because of its planned Balkan expansion, but mostly because of frictions over Afghanistan. The alliance is in real danger of becoming irrelevant, and it makes no sense to take steps likely to increase friction before its members reach some consensus on its role in the current order.

I’ve been working on a longer post involving related issues, so I should have more to say about this later.


NATO Troops Should Redeploy to Protect Kosovar Serbs

Human Security Report Project’s newsfeed reports:

Serbia has promised NATO it would not use force against Kosovo if the breakaway province carried out a vow to declare independence early next year, a senior alliance commander said on Thursday. NATO has patrolled Kosovo since it bombed Serbia for nearly 3 months in 1999 to force the withdrawal of Serb forces accused of atrocities in a war against separatist Albanian guerrillas in the province. “Right now we have enough forces on the ground to protect the people of Kosovo,” said Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy officer.

This plus Belgrade’s attempt to seek redress through the ICJ, suggest I was right: NATO’s fears of renewed atrocities against Kosovar Albanians may hve been overblown. But this doesn’t mean there are not important reasons to prioritize the protection of civilians – only that assumptions about who should be protected may need to be reconsidered.

The danger comes not from the certainty that Kosovar Albanians are seceding from Serbia, but from the possibility that Kosovar Serbs will try to secede from a newly independent Kosovo.

Kosovar Serbs are likeliest to attempt secession if they have reason to fear persecution or violence from their newly empowered neighbors.

This has happened before – spates of revenge killings of Serb civilians accompanied the return of refugees from Macedonia in 1999. In such an instance Serbia will be not only inclined but possibly justified in “intervening” on their behalf. This precise dynamic triggered the 1991 war between Serbia and newly independent Croatia, which immediately began “cleansing” the Krajina Serb minority in Croatia.

If NATO wishes to contribute to maintaining stability in the region, the priority should be to provide immediate protection the 100,000 Kosovar Serbs in the northern regions, rather than deploying to protect Albanian civilians farther south from some feared JNA offensive. There would be no more helpful confidence-building measure in the next few months than to send the signal that NATO is biased in favor of stability and civilian protection, rather than in favor of Kosovar Albanians per se.


NATO Takes Limited Steps on Darfur

The international community’s inadequate response to the ongoing genocide in Sudan (and yes, it is a genocide) brings shame upon us all. Recent polling suggests the American people agree, as majorities favor a stronger US commitment to the stop the crimes against humanity being committed by the Sudanese-backed Janjawid.

Today, NATO pledged to provide airlift support to send additional African troops to the region:

NATO defence ministers gave the green light on Thursday to an operation to airlift extra African troops to Sudan’s troubled Darfur region, the alliance’s first mission on the continent.

NATO chiefs were at pains to stress there was no competition with a separate European Union mission, after NATO-member France said its offer to transport two battalions of Senegalese troops was under an EU, not a NATO, banner.

NATO’s go-ahead for the operation comes a day before Darfur peace talks sponsored by the African Union resume in the Nigerian capital Abuja. Tens of thousands have been killed in the arid western region and more than 2 million forced from their homes during a rebellion now well into its third year.

Current EU and NATO plans stop short of providing the robust support, including military intervention, that would be necessary to end the atrocities. The African Union (AU) and Sudanese government have “ruled out Western troops helping in Darfur,” but I imagine sufficient NATO pressure would change the AU’s mind. As for the Sudanese, they don’t have any right to make demands on the international community, and there’s not a lot they could do if they were faced with a serious humanitarian intervention in the region.

(For steps short of intervention that the US can take, see the excellent post by Derek Chollet on divestment and the extensive discussion of options by Susan Nossel, both of Democracy Arsenal.)

I remain ambivalent on the Iraq War. Yet we should all remember that at least part of the Bush Administration’s arguments for the invasion were based upon the past genocidal behavior of Saddam Hussein. What then, can we possibly say about a failure to do more in the face of ongoing genocide?

That being said, we also should not discount the significance of the EU and NATO pledges. The fact is that the US did not even make a serious commitment to logistical support – of any kind – to help stop the Rwandan genocide. As Samantha Power wrote in her influential Atlantic argue on the failure of the US to act:

The United States haggled at the Security Council and with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations for the first two weeks of May. U.S. officials pointed to the flaws in Dallaire’s proposal without offering the resources that would have helped him to overcome them. On May 13 Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott sent Madeleine Albright instructions on how the United States should respond to Dallaire’s plan. Noting the logistic hazards of airlifting troops into the capital, Talbott wrote, “The U.S. is not prepared at this point to lift heavy equipment and troops into Kigali.” The “more manageable” operation would be to create the protected zones at the border, secure humanitarian-aid deliveries, and “promot[e] restoration of a ceasefire and return to the Arusha Peace Process.” Talbott acknowledged that even the minimalist American proposal contained “many unanswered questions”:

Where will the needed forces come from; how will they be transported … where precisely should these safe zones be created; … would UN forces be authorized to move out of the zones to assist affected populations not in the zones … will the fighting parties in Rwanda agree to this arrangement … what conditions would need to obtain for the operation to end successfully?….

On May 17, by which time most of the Tutsi victims of the genocide were already dead, the United States finally acceded to a version of Dallaire’s plan. However, few African countries stepped forward to offer troops. Even if troops had been immediately available, the lethargy of the major powers would have hindered their use. Though the Administration had committed the United States to provide armored support if the African nations provided soldiers, Pentagon stalling resumed. On May 19 the UN formally requested fifty American armored personnel carriers. On May 31 the United States agreed to send the APCs from Germany to Entebbe, Uganda. But squabbles between the Pentagon and UN planners arose. Who would pay for the vehicles? Should the vehicles be tracked or wheeled? Would the UN buy them or simply lease them? And who would pay the shipping costs? Compounding the disputes was the fact that Department of Defense regulations prevented the U.S. Army from preparing the vehicles for transport until contracts had been signed. The Defense Department demanded that it be reimbursed $15 million for shipping spare parts and equipment to and from Rwanda. In mid-June the White House finally intervened. On June 19, a month after the UN request, the United States began transporting the APCs, but they were missing the radios and heavy machine guns that would be needed if UN troops came under fire. By the time the APCs arrived, the genocide was over—halted by Rwandan Patriotic Front forces under the command of the Tutsi leader, Paul Kagame.

An aside: there’s another story in this article, which has to do with the intricacies of the EU-NATO-US relationship. Perhaps a subject for another post.

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