Monthly Archives: February 2011

Military-to-military relationships

The Economist
February 26, 2011

Military-to-military relationships

The Ties That Bind

America’s armed forces may sometimes succeed where its diplomats cannot

NOBODY knows whether Egypt’s army will steer the country to free and fair elections. But there is less doubt about its role in minimising conflict during the demonstrations that eventually toppled Hosni Mubarak, the country’s president. The army would not use lethal force against the crowds in Tahrir Square. Instead they provided protesters with some defence against the regime’s thugs.

Critics of America at home and in the region lamented the Obama administration’s apparent powerlessness during the unrest in Cairo. But some think the close ties between America’s and Egypt’s armed forces played a critical role in helping the new military council become a force for social cohesion rather than repression. How far do other, similar relationships between military establishments provide a back-channel when conventional diplomacy is not enough?

The cornerstone of America’s “mil-mil” relationship with Egypt is the $1.3 billion in annual foreign military financing that it has handed over since 1979 as “untouchable compensation” for Egypt’s peace with Israel. Over 30 years the Egyptian armed forces have replaced Soviet-era weapons with top-notch American kit, such as F-16 fighters and M1 tanks. How much influence this buys the Americans is debatable: they tread a fine line between giving advice and appearing to dictate. But the example of Iran, which saw its advanced American weapons rapidly fall into disrepair after the fall of the Shah, is a warning of what could happen to Egypt if ties with America go irretrievably wrong.

The links are personal too. While demonstrations in Egypt escalated there was frequent contact between the secretary of defence, Robert Gates, and his Egyptian counterpart, Field-Marshal Muhammad Tantawi. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was also talking to the Egyptian army chief, Lieutenant General Sami Enan, who had been at the Pentagon only in late January for discussions about combined training.

Mr Gates and Admiral Mullen were urging their Egyptian chums to do exactly what they so far have done—gently shove Mr Mubarak to the exit, restore calm and preside over an orderly transition while reiterating support for peace with Israel. Major General Robert Scales, a retired commandant of the US Army War College, argues that the passage of large numbers of the best and brightest Egyptian officers through American war colleges has suffused the army with American values. He recently said: “They learn our way of war…but they also learn our philosophies of civil-military relations.”

America also has close military ties with Pakistan. But that relationship is more troubled. Admiral Mullen has worked hard to reforge links with Pakistan after they splintered in the 1990s due to the end of the cold war and sanctions triggered by the country’s nuclear programme. During his three and a half years as chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mullen has flown to Pakistan well over 20 times for meetings with the head of the army, General Ashfaq Kayani, in an effort to build a personal rapport with the man widely seen as the most powerful in the country.

Last year, in a speech to Pakistani officers at the National Defence University in Islamabad, Mr Gates said that the severing of ties between the two countries’ armed forces had been a “grave strategic mistake” that had “tainted the perception of the United States in Pakistan.” As a result, the two countries had struggled “to work together to confront the common threat of extremism”. Mr Gates believes that America is still paying a heavy price for having had no military dealings with a generation of Pakistani officers who are now reaching the top.

Pakistan’s stance towards Islamist extremism remains ambivalent. Plenty of evidence suggests that the Pakistanis are happy to offer America limited military co-operation while providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban insurgents. But Admiral Mullen believes his bond with General Kayani (and the promise of a $2 billion military-aid package) has brought the countries closer together. He points to the Pakistani army’s campaigns against insurgents in the tribal areas of Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan since 2009 as evidence that the military relationship is working.

Despite their differences, America’s military ties with Egypt and Pakistan have a lot in common. Both countries have relatively underdeveloped civil societies. In both, the army is the most respected institution in the country and has some capacity for autonomous policy-making. And in both instances, America can lubricate the relationship by providing modern weaponry and at least some of the money to buy it. The more democratic a country, the less influence is likely to be exerted through military connections. An example is Turkey, which was bound closely to America when its generals were running the show, but which has become a more awkward ally since the rise of the moderately Islamist Justice and Development (AK) Party.

Of all the links between armed forces, the most complicated are those with strategic rivals. Mr Gates argues that a military relationship is not a reward for good behaviour but an instrument of statecraft that benefits both sides—even when there is friction. This seemed to work with Russia. After the shock of its invasion of Georgia in 2008, less than a year passed before Admiral Mullen and his Russian equivalent, General Nikolai Makarov signed a new framework for mutual engagement.

On the other hand, Mr Gates worries about China’s tendency to break off its ties with the American military whenever America does something it dislikes. In January last year the Chinese suspended military exchanges after America said it would sell arms to Taiwan. Mr Gates reckons reliable links with the People’s Liberation Army helps to “reduce miscommunication, misunderstanding and the risks of miscalculation.” And he made some progress on his visit to Beijing last month.

But the Chinese are not wholly convinced that close military ties with America are to their advantage. They fear that Chinese officers on exchange visits will be intimidated by American military might, whereas American officers doing the same thing will learn too much about China’s shortcomings. The Chinese think of military co-operation as the fruit of mutual trust. Mr Gates sees it as a way to establish trust when it is lacking. It is hard to bridge that gap. But Mr Gates is surely right to believe that no form of diplomacy succeeds without consistency, patience and long-term investment.


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The Mideast: Who's Really In Charge?

Can you say “rapidly failing states.” In the run up to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Secretary Gates and the team from OSD Policy discussed the lack of research on “rapidly failng states” and the impact on future defense planning and policy development.

Washington Post
February 27, 2011
Pg. 19

The Mideast: Who’s Really In Charge?

By Robert D. Kaplan

With the toppling of autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia – and other Arab dictators, such as Libya’s, on the ropes – some have euphorically announced the arrival of democracy in the Middle East. But something more subtle may develop. The regimes that emerge may call themselves democracies and the world may go along with the lie, but the test of a system is how the power relationships work behind the scenes.

In states with relatively strong institutional traditions, such as Tunisia and Egypt, a form of democracy may in fact develop. But places that are less states than geographical expressions, such as Libya and Yemen, are more likely to produce hybrid regimes. Within such systems – with which history is very familiar – militaries, internal security services, tribes and inexperienced political parties compete for influence. The process produces incoherence and instability even as it combines attributes of authoritarianism and democracy. This is not anarchy so much as a groping toward true modernity.

Another obstacle to full-bore democracies emerging quickly across the Middle East is simply that young people, while savvy in the ways of social media and willing to defy bullets, can bring down a system, but they cannot necessarily govern. Hierarchical organizations are required to govern. And as those develop we will see various mixed systems – various grays instead of democracy vs. dictatorship in black-and-white terms.

When Christianity spread around the Mediterranean basin in late antiquity, it did not unify the ancient world or make it morally purer; rather, Christianity split up into various rites, sects and heresies all battling against each other. Power politics continued very much as before. Something similar may ensue with the spread of democracy.

Each Arab country’s evolving system will unleash a familiar scenario: The United States had a relatively low-maintenance relationship with Mexico when it was a one-party dictatorship. But as Mexico evolved into a multiparty democracy, relations got far harder and more complex. No longer was there one man or one phone number to dial when crises arose; Washington had to lobby a host of Mexican personalities simultaneously. An era of similar complexity is about to emerge with the Arab world – and it won’t be just a matter of getting things done but also of knowing who really is in charge.

The uprisings in the Middle East will have a more profound effect on Europe than on the United States. Just as Europe moved eastward to encompass the former satellite states of the Soviet Union after 1989, Europe will now expand to the south. For decades North Africa was effectively cut off from the northern rim of the Mediterranean because of autocratic regimes that stifled economic and social development while also facilitating extremist politics. North Africa gave Europe economic migrants but little else. But as its states evolve into hybrid regimes, the degree of political and economic interactions with nearby Europe will multiply. Some of those Arab migrants may return home as opportunities are created by reformist policies. The Mediterranean will become a connector, rather than the divider it has been during most of the post-colonial era.

Of course, Tunisia and Egypt are not about to join the European Union. But they will become shadow zones of deepening E.U. involvement. The European Union itself will become an even more ambitious and unwieldy project.

The true beneficiary of these uprisings in a historical and geographical sense is Turkey. Ottoman Turkey ruled North Africa and the Levant for hundreds of years in the modern era. While this rule was despotic, it was not so oppressive as to leave a lasting scar on today’s Arabs. Turkey is an exemplar of Islamic democracy that can serve as a role model for these newly liberated states, especially as its democracy evolved from a hybrid regime – with generals and politicians sharing power until recently. With 75 million people and a 10 percent economic growth rate, Turkey is also a demographic and economic juggernaut that can project soft power throughout the Mediterranean.

The Middle East’s march away from authoritarianism will ironically inhibit the projection of American power. Because of the complexity of hybrid regimes, American influence in each capital will be limited; Turkey is more likely to be the avatar toward which newly liberated Arabs look. America’s influence is likely to be maintained less by the emergence of democracy than by continued military assistance to many Arab states and by the divisions that will continue to plague the region, especially the threat of a nuclearized, Shiite Iran.

Mitigating the loss of American power will be the geopolitical weakening of the Arab world itself. As Arab societies turn inward to rectify long-ignored social and economic grievances and their leaders in hybrid systems battle each other to consolidate power domestically, they will have less energy for foreign policy concerns.

The political scientist Samuel Huntington wrote that the United States essentially inherited its political system from England and, thus, America’s periodic political upheavals had to do with taming authority rather than creating it from scratch. The Arab world now has the opposite challenge: It must create from the dust of tyrannies legitimate political orders. It is less democracy than the crisis of central authority that will dominate the next phase of Middle Eastern history.

Robert D. Kaplan is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for the Atlantic. He is the author of “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.”

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Gates: Never Fight A Land War In Asia

Did anyone not see this coming. I believe this was in the back of everyone’s mind (“we’ll never do that again) but this is the first public policy prouncement of such consideration. Looks like the Army has a budget fight on it’s hand.

Washington Wire (
February 25, 2011

Gates: Never Fight A Land War In Asia

By Julian E. Barnes

The U.S. Army must be prepared for a wide range of future wars, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday. But don’t count on fighting a land war in Asia–or the Middle East or Africa for that matter.

Mr. Gates said the U.S. will need swift-moving expeditionary and special-operation forces to respond to disasters, counter terrorism or conduct stability operations.

But a state-on-state land war with tanks and artillery? Don’t count on it.

Mr. Gates was skeptical that the U.S. Army or Marine Corps would be asked to fight a “high-end” war and said a “head-on clash of large mechanized land armies” was unlikely.

“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to send a big American land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an audience of West Point cadets Friday.

Mr. Gates said the odds of again engaging in a war like Iraq or Afghanistan was low, but he said unconventional, counter-insurgency techniques will still be needed.

In the future, using the Army to help train other nation’s security forces may help prevent the need for a long-term presence by a large American ground forces.

As part of the coming transformation of the Army, Mr. Gates also said the service must end the era of “automatic promotions” caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars’ intensive need for manpower. Repeated deployments have left the army “numb to individual performance,” Mr. Gates said.

The Army, Mr. Gates said, has in some respects become risk-adverse and needs to adopt a more aggressive, merit-based approach to officer evaluations. He suggested the current system “too often incentivizes officers to keep their head down and avoid making mistakes or disagreeing with superiors.”

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Economic Downturn Seen Fueling New Divides Across Western Balkans

BELGRADE, Feb 15, 2011 (AFP) — The western Balkans region, for so long riven by ethnic divides, now finds itself grappling with political divisions that have induced a governmental paralysis in some of Europe’s poorest countries.

Deadly protests, strikes and parliamentary boycotts all underline how the region has struggled to absorb not only the legacy of the past but also the impact of the economic downturn.

Observers say one of the casualties is enthusiasm for membership of the European Union, with governments which have long been pushing to join facing a backlash at a time of high unemployment and falling living standards.

“The national issue is not the main concern any more. The issue of employment and corruption is what really concerns the people nowadays,” said veteran Balkans watcher Jacques Rupnik.

The sense of crisis has been felt most acutely in Albania which has been gripped by a political deadlock ever since the opposition refused to recognise results of parliamentary elections in June 2009.

Tensions boiled over last month when clashes between the security forces and anti-government protestors left four people dead in the capital Tirana.

Marko Prelec of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said the violence should have served as a wake-up call as to the tensions mounting in what, after Moldova, is Europe’s poorest country.

“Everyone underestimated the severity of the situation in Albania,” he said.

In neighbouring Kosovo, a similar vacuum is in danger of forming with Prime Minister Hashim Thaci still trying to cobble together a fresh coalition after being forced into early elections in December.

Although Thaci’s party did come out on top, he fell some distance short of an overall majority and his focus has not been helped by allegations linking him to organised crime and organ trafficking. He denies the accusations.

It’s much the same story in Bosnia — another part of the former Yugoslavia mired in warfare in the 1990s — which still has no central government, four months on from its elections.

Macedonia’s main opposition parties are boycotting the parliament and want early elections.

And in Serbia, the region’s powerhouse, a wave of strikes by public sector workers and opposition protests have cranked up the pressure on Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic ahead of legislative elections due in spring next year.

“After two years of economic downfall and stagnation, the people are exhausted and nervous, and the government is still on the defensive,” analyst Dimitrije Boarov wrote in Serbia’s private weekly Vreme.

To date, Slovenia is the only former Yugoslave republic that is a member of the EU.

Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia all have their eyes on a seat at the table but while support among the population remains relatively high, there are clear signs of it slipping.

A December survey showed that 57 percent of Serbs were in favor of joining the EU, the first time that the support level had fallen below 60 percent.

In Croatia — the first on the list of EU hopefuls — a recent poll showed that the number of people had dropped to 49.4 percent, albeit still ahead of the 40.3 percent who were opposed.

Rupnik, a researcher at France’s Science Po University, said that the apparent growing indifference towards EU membership there was due partly to the slow pace of membership talks.

He warned against an ambiguous approach where Europeans “pretend to support enlargement” and Balkans countries “pretend to prepare” for it, but without in reality making the tough decision.

Even if Croatia is closing in on its goal of EU membership, that is only after five years of talks.

Although Prime Minister Sali Berisha has made Albanian membership his number one goal, its application has gone nowhere amid the domestic crisis.

Belgrade’s ambitions are also being stymied by its continued dispute with Kosovo, insisting that the breakaway region is still its territory.
The net result could be “a premature Euroscepticism,” said Rupnik.

“People doubt the European project even before it is reached,” he added.

[Description of Source: Agence France-Presse]

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