Category Archives: NATO

Terra Incognita – How the Frugal Superpower Navigates Democracy’s Latest Wave – Wikistrat


In the rush to define President Barack Obama’s “doctrine” following his decision to lead NATO’s initial no-fly-zone operations in Libya, experts have latched onto every detail’s possible meaning. But in the end, it’s easier to say what his strategy is not than what it is. While frustrating, such ambiguity makes sense for a cost-conscious superpower navigating what is arguably democracy’s emerging 4th great wave (see Samuel Huntington re: 1-3).

via Terra Incognita – How the Frugal Superpower Navigates Democracy’s Latest Wave – Wikistrat.

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NATO’s Last Mission? – The Washington Post


But if this historically unreliable Anglo-French coalition proves unable to sustain a long operation, what then? There is certainly no European force that can replace it. There isn’t even a European foreign policy: Years of diplomacy, debate and endless national referendums culminated, a couple of years ago, in the selection of two powerless figureheads as Europe’s “president” and “foreign minister.” Attempts to create a united European army have never moved beyond pure symbolism. If Britain and France run out of planes, fuel, money or enthusiasm, it’s over. And NATO — an organization that, I repeat, did not plan for, prepare for or even vote for the Libyan operation — will shoulder most of the blame. The use of NATO’s name, in Libya, is a fiction. But the weakening of NATO’s reputation in Libya’s wake might become horribly real.

via Will the Libya intervention bring the end of NATO? – The Washington Post.

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The Balkanization of the European Union a Blessing in Disguise? « The Global Journal


Thus the denouement of the economic crisis in the European Union threatening it with dismemberment may give rise to a savior who will salvage it from its ultimate catastrophe, the Islamization of Europe.

The Balkanization of the European Union a Blessing in Disguise? « The Global Journal.

 

 

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BOOKS ON KOSOVO


The Best Books on Kosovo

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Defence Ministers Discuss Cooperation in Montenegro


At a meeting of the South East European Co-operation Process, SEECP, in Montenegro’s seaside resort of Budva, Sutanovac stressed that Serbia has a significant role in promoting that cooperation

He warned that, “despite the evident improvement of the regional spirit and cooperation, we should not close our eyes to obvious problems.”

“In addition to the unresolved status of Kosovo-Metohija, the region is also burdened with issues of insufficiently developed economies and high unemployment rates,” Sutanovac pointed out.

According to the minister, additional areas of concern include high levels of corruption, organised crime, trafficking in people, narcotics, weapons and body parts and failures to resolve issues of return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes.

“The unsatisfactory quality of life is what should concern us politicians the most, because we are here primarily for the benefit of citizens,” he stressed.

The SEECP meeting brought together the defence ministers of member states from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.

Sutanovac noted that the entire region was committed to membership in the European Union and that “regional cooperation is a key segment of the EU’s policy towards the Western Balkans, since the EU itself came into being through the development of regional cooperation.”

He said that “in 2011 we have results which clearly show that there is no alternative to resolving disputes and problems through cooperation.”

“If we take the example of Serbia, only in terms of bilateral relations in the field of defense until and including 2010, we see that it has established contractual relations with all the countries in the region, except Albania, but this is something Serbia will work on in the foreseeable future,” he added.

During the gathering in Budva, the Serbian defense minister held bilateral meetings with his colleagues from Montenegro, Boro Vucinic, from Turkey, Mehmet Gonul and Albania, Arben Imami.

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Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid


Reading the Wall Street Journal recently I was struck with a reported
estimate that if our budget deficits were not restrained and the
national debt reduced, we would soon as a nation reach $900 Billion in
interests payments annually. Considering that ~25% of the national debt
is owned by foreign entities ($1.1 Trillion by the Chinese) I am
concerned that we are not only risking our financial future but perhaps
funding our National Insecurity. Our debt payments on interests alone
may just fund the development of a “near-per” or “peer” competitor.

It is striking to me to consider that the Army, on a budget in 2001
nearly a quarter to a third of the size of today we were able to topple
TWO nation states within the span of two years. Yet today, on the
precipice of ending those two wars, we can’t think to reduce the size of
the defense budget? Irrational.

As a veteran of the Iraq War (U.S. Army, 1st Infantry Division, OIF II)
and a current Army civilian, I understand the potential second and third
order effects of this suggestion, specifically, that my friends are
still engaged in this nation’s wars and the possible personnel cuts
necessary. Yet I would like to echo the following from the March 2011
Armed Forces Journal:

What really matters
Defense spending doesn’t equate to national security
BY GENE MYERS
Much of what I am about to discuss here may be unpopular with many in the defense community. But there comes a time when one reaches an intellectual critical mass, when silence is more harmful than professional risk and when, in this case, issues from different disciplines — national security, economics, education, politics — gel into an overheated mass that demands release.

I am a retired Air Force officer and longtime government contractor — often less than affectionately referred to as a “Beltway bandit.” As such, I am familiar with the intricacies of national-level political governance but can claim no more expertise in the subject than the average concerned citizen with a reasonably good education. But that’s the point: As a concerned citizen, I have every bit the same right to comment on the decisions our leaders must make as the politicians and pundits do — and I intend to step out of my expected role as a conservative champion of “defense rights” to do so.

Unlike many people with backgrounds similar to mine, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the U.S. defense budget cannot be exempt from the cuts that are now so necessary to national well-being. Although I agree with my colleagues that national security is the most vital task of the federal government, I also submit that there is far more involved in providing that security than soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, ships, planes and tanks. Let me make the point even more bluntly: Blind adherence to the mantra of defense establishment supremacy in national budgetary policy will not provide future security.

Yes, I am very aware that we are still immersed in a war in Afghanistan and a large support operation in Iraq, as well as increasingly threatened by surging Chinese military capabilities and a paranoid and belligerent North Korea. Then there is Iran. And the new uncertainties raised by events in Tunisia and Egypt. But the nation has allowed itself to get into such lamentable economic, educational and political condition that we have no choice but to urgently address many problems, probably simultaneously. The future of our nation’s general well-being and security demands it.

If those in uniform are not well enough educated to accomplish the increasingly complex technical tasks asked of them; if our industry is no longer capable of producing the tools needed for defense in a technology-dependent environment at an affordable cost; if the national budget is so unbalanced that our credit goes into the sewer and confidence is lost in the U.S.’s ability to effectively manage its affairs; if our political leaders are more concerned with keeping their jobs than doing their jobs; then national security will surely suffer, and no one need fire a shot.

THE POLITICS OF CYNICISM

How did we get to the point where we elect our representatives based on who is the most, or least, cynical? Vitriol and fear have replaced debate and respect for an intelligent electorate. We now often vote for the lesser of two evils. I realize that, in many ways, I’m preaching to the choir; more experienced and learned people than I have lamented the same issues, especially lately. NBC special correspondent Tom Brokaw observed in a Jan. 24 Time magazine article that “most of the country believes” the political dialogue has gone “critical mass.” The nation’s “political class across the spectrum … spend an awful lot of time finding ways to attack each other that have very little to do with the common welfare of the country.”

True enough. But let me throw another log on the fire. How do we think international respect for this nation and its form of government is affected by such shameful public displays, and what effect does that have on our security? The U.S. portrays itself to the world as the champion of freedom and democratic rule backed by moral strength and military might to be used when necessary. I would suggest that publicly displayed contempt for our highest ideals of open civil debate and government of and for the people by our elected leaders will not win many allies. I suspect it is not surprising that I see a cynical, untrusting political cadre playing a major role in perpetrating the other deficiencies outlined here, from failing education to industrial incapacity and pending bankruptcy. Many observers see a glimmer of bipartisan light in the aftermath of the bloody Tucson attack. We must hope that to be the case because, without bipartisan and truly enlightened legislative action, the nation will continue our precipitous decline. Make no mistake, the United States of America is in decline.

EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS

Security is a complex thing. Economics is no longer a choice between guns or butter. In the defense arena, long gone are the days when a new soldier could receive a few weeks’ training, be issued a rifle and sent out to do the nation’s business. The modern soldier must deal with increasingly complex weapons, communications and data systems. An education system that produces one of the lowest national literacy and science ratings in the developed world cannot long maintain a high-tech military. The notion that, since we have a population pool of around 310 million to fill the ranks and we still attract some of the brightest minds from overseas, we will always have sufficient talent for our needs is bankrupt and downright dangerous. The truth is that as each generation has produced lower education expectations, there will be a time, and it will be soon, when we cannot meet the demands of both the public and private sectors. And those who think we can continue to lure the brightest prodigies of rapidly advancing nations such as India, South Korea and others to a “brighter future” in a declining American industrial and technological market are dead wrong, especially as U.S. companies move overseas. There is no choice but to buttress a failing American education system, and that will cost money and require the expenditure of political capital that seems increasingly hard to come by. Further discouraging news: The Pentagon says that today — not in some distant scenario of doom, but today — “75 percent of those aged 17 to 24 don’t even qualify to take [the basic military entrance] test because they are physically unfit, have a criminal record or didn’t graduate high school.” And even worse, “23 percent of recent high school graduates [who do take the test] don’t get the minimum score … to join any branch of the military.” That’s not just disturbing; it’s embarrassing.

LOOMING BANKRUPTCY

Alarm bells should be ringing. The nation is more than $14 trillion in debt and a great deal of that debt is held by a nation that may not be our friendly neighborhood banker. Bottom line: This must be fixed. So-called financial experts say it’s not the problem that many of us think. We can just grow our economy out of debt. I’m no financial wizard, but with unemployment approaching 10 percent and many financial institutions and companies afraid to invest in our economy, I don’t see much beyond a fickle stock market to give us solace. Employers have found that in some, or even many, cases people can be replaced by technology more cheaply than providing paychecks. On the face of it, that’s not encouraging for growing jobs. It gets worse. Remembering the earlier discussion of educational failings, how long could it be before we cannot provide the workers and soldiers trained to keep this spiraling technological demand fed with qualified specialists Industry and defense will face the same problem. Competition between them may become fierce, pushing the huge defense personnel costs even higher. As for the security apparatus itself, for a while now, those of us who participate in the public defense debates have mostly agreed that our security is as much dependent on a robust diplomatic and financial aid structure as boots-on-the-ground military presence, and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates has offered funds from defense coffers to improve State Department funding. There just isn’t enough money to go around.

INDUSTRIAL CRISIS

It seems to be a rare major defense contract that is completed on cost and on time. Deciding who is responsible here is not easy. To start with, competition among defense system contractors has been all but eliminated by mergers and takeovers. The captains of the few remaining major defense companies point to the government (mainly the services and Congress) as the reason for spiraling costs and tardy production as requirements repeatedly change, production runs are extended and political pork is served across the country. On the other hand, government representatives maintain that since there is so little competition, companies aren’t as careful as they should be in their bids, or maybe are more ardently serving their financial interests. In such instances, they would have the government between the classic rock and a hard place: Pay increasing costs and tolerate broken schedules or don’t get the products. I suspect that if one could actually determine ground truth here, it would surely be some combination of both positions. As a result, defense and congressional leaders must often accept less than ideal defense programs at staggering costs, but I strongly believe they also share the blame. The defense dollars that are available are buying less security, and we face the very real possibility, and I would suggest necessity, of major funding cuts.

Then there is the need to repair our disintegrating national infrastructure. Our roads are dilapidated, many bridges are dangerously weakened by age and our electrical grid is out of date and increasingly inefficient. By itself, this is a budget-busting task.

I realize that what I have said here is not news to many readers, but awareness is not remedy. Our defense challenges are indeed daunting. Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza at the American Enterprise Institute recently commented on the obvious challenge posed by China’s potent armaments program, noting that “a serious U.S. response is not on the horizon. Instead we are hollowing out our air, naval and Marine forces at a time when we should be reinforcing and modernizing them, so as to reassure allies that we will maintain the capability to deter Chinese aggression and defeat Chinese forces should they attack.”

I do not challenge or doubt either the good intentions or accuracy of their remarks. But our defenses are likely to remain hollow unless we muster the bipartisan political wherewithal to seriously address all components of our nation’s security.

The more pressing issue is: Do we continue heavy defense spending in the face of so many other challenges that already are hobbling the nation’s ability to defend itself?

As a nation, I fear we are racing to mediocrity — or worse. We face massive problems that, if not ignored, have surely been inadequately addressed. We most often want to tackle our problems in isolation, dealing with them one at a time. But defense, as an element of national security, is not a different concern than our national debt, industrial strength, educational shortcomings or acrimonious political environment. All the elements are not just mutually supporting, they are synergistic. We must address them that way. For at least the near term, that may require continuing the defense cuts already begun by Gates — a worrisome prospect in the current international environment, but due to our own mistakes, probably necessary.

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Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid


Washingtonpost.com
March 2, 2011

Ex-Pentagon Adviser Says US Should Cut Afghan Aid

By Bradley Klapper, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — By pumping more than $100 million into a hydropower plant, the United States sought to improve the lives of Afghans and win the hearts and minds of tribesmen and farmers who might otherwise turn to the Taliban insurgency. Instead, a prominent outside Pentagon adviser argues, the bungled boondoggle ended up funding the insurgents while doing little to help the United States end the war and bring troops home.

The story of the Kajaki dam, the largest U.S. aid project in Afghanistan, is emblematic of the U.S. government’s failing approach to development aid in Afghanistan, according to a policy brief by Mark Moyar, a former professor at the Marine Corps University and frequent consultant to U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan and the Mideast.

Development aid “should be slashed immediately,” Moyar concludes. Less money should be accompanied by a narrower focus away from common good programs designed to lift the whole of Afghan society and accompanied by clearer security objectives behind each program, Moyar said.

Moyar’s critique of the U.S. approach to aid and development in the nearly 10-year-old war will appear this week in an online scholarly publication, Small Wars Journal, which is widely read by military officers and academics.

He argues that grand gestures such as the dam have flopped, largely because development spending does little to increase popular support during an insurgency. Half the electricity from the project in the volatile Helmand province goes to Taliban territory, enabling America’s enemies to issue power bills and grow the poppies that finance their insurgency, he says.

The assessment challenges basics of counterinsurgency theory as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan approaches and American commanders claim tactical gains ahead of the planned start of a U.S. withdrawal in July. And it comes amid questions over how the process will play out in provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, where the U.S. has devoted large amounts of money to areas it has struggled to control.

It is written by a well-regarded counterinsurgency theorist who asserts that money and good will – the currency of counterinsurgency – can turn out to be counterproductive. In some ways, it surprisingly echoes Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s sentiment that the volume of U.S. contract cash and development money fuels corruption and delivers as much harm as good when directed to a place where wealth is so scarce without it.

Moyar says aid should focus on short-term security goals, not long-term democratization or infrastructure plans. Money should be used to buy the allegiance of power players, from national decision-makers to tribal authorities, with the immediate goal of co-opting them on U.S. security objectives. He cites the positive changes in Iraq after 2006 when aid began to be channeled to local elites in exchange for their support against al-Qaida and anti-government forces.

In Afghanistan, stronger military forces, national police and provincial governments under the control of Kabul will make security better, but he says they need the support of local and sometimes undesirable partners.

“Afghanistan is a hierarchical society and elites make the decisions,” yet most U.S. aid operations bypass them, said Moyar, who is also author of “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq.”

The criticism touches on an essential quandary for defenders of the U.S. government’s big-picture – and expensive – plans to build the grass-roots bases for democratic and social change in a country ravaged by conflict and endemic poverty over the past three decades.

Despite spending nearly $23 billion on development and humanitarian aid programs in Afghanistan since 2001, there is no easy way to measure the effectiveness of the effort. Winning hearts and minds doesn’t lend itself to macroeconomic indicators, though U.S. programs have helped deliver education, better health care and other services to tens of thousands of Afghans. Still, desperate poverty and hunger persist.

Supporters of programs to build grass-roots institutions say some of the fruit of that work may not be immediately apparent. They note that democratization and the development of a strong civil society are important to bringing stability to a country where weak governance allowed al-Qaida to establish bases and launch the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. It also can secure a long-term American ally in a region made precarious by Islamic extremism, a potentially nuclear-powered Iran and another fragile state in Pakistan.

Aid efforts face numerous challenges in Afghanistan, such as insecurity and rampant corruption among Afghan officials. Aid efforts haven’t always been helped by a U.S. strategy that until recently gave precedence to fighting over economic development and promoting good governance, even as European allies have tended to see Afghanistan as a long-term charity case more than a war.

The Kajaki dam illustrates some problems that beset aid efforts. Repairs were delayed repeatedly by fighting and the difficulty in securing roads long enough to deliver supplies, and the Taliban has exacted taxes on farmers who use the electricity and cut lines in areas where people support the government. Fuel shortages are common, while costs have ballooned. And to meet an ambitious time frame, the U.S. awarded a no-bid $266 million contract for work on the dam and other projects to an American contractor with a record of cost overruns and missed deadlines, The Associated Press has reported.

Moyar’s report comes during contentious congressional deliberations over the budget and calls by some Republicans for sharp funding cuts for overseas aid programs. He has distributed it so far to key officials of the NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, the Defense Department, the State Department and the Agency for International Development. The report represents Moyar’s independent research and was not commissioned by the military or the government.

It urges a complete overhaul of the approach championed by Gen. David Petraeus and others whom Moyar has advised, which links aid to counterinsurgency efforts on the basis of addressing Afghan grievances. Bringing schools, clinics and other services to Afghans can help people economically and promote peace and stability, this thinking goes, but Moyar describes this as fantasy talk during an armed insurrection. The goals should be far more limited and focus primarily on security, he says.

“We can do all the vaccinations we want, but it doesn’t really change people’s behavior,” he said. “And the Taliban can take credit for our work.”

Still, his call for buying support and channeling efforts through existing power structures is not without its own pitfalls. Nowhere is this probably truer than in Afghanistan, which ranks among the worst countries in the world for public corruption, a scourge that is pervasive from Karzai’s senior government officials all the way down to local levels. And it’s unclear how committed local figures will be to the American and Afghan government cause if the money dries up.

“The corruption issue is indeed tricky,” Moyar said in an interview. He said he was part of an internal U.S. government debate last year over whether to battle or tolerate Afghan corruption. A softer approach seems to have won out, he said. His paper argues that the U.S. should only combat corruption that hampers counterinsurgency efforts – such as kidnapping for ransom or shaking people down at checkpoints – and not economic practices that may be tolerable to many Afghans, however egregious they are to Westerners.

Directing development aid to certain leaders in exchange for counterterrorism support could feed corruption, Moyar concedes, but he insists it wouldn’t lead to the type of predatory practices that drive people to joining the insurgency. Most leaders can be bought because they are not ideological diehards, though it is important to co-opt good leaders who can do the most to help the fight against the Taliban.

In Afghanistan, these individuals may be in short supply. The drawdown in U.S. forces expected later this year will test the strength of U.S. alliances at the local level and development programs designed to bring stability and a better quality of life to Afghans. Many questions remain unanswered over the lasting effects that billions of dollars in American aid will have, especially as areas of the country are transferred to the control of Afghanistan’s government and it takes the lead in the battle for supremacy with the Taliban.

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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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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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Britain Bows Out of the Security Game


The DoD press secretary released a statement on Wednesday hoping to dampen concerns about British defense spending cuts, “We are confident that the U.K. will continue to have the capacity to provide top-tier fighting forces in Afghanistan and other future missions in defense of our shared interests and security.”

“We are pleased that the U.K. clearly intends to maintain its historical role as a leading nation that shapes global security, and the fourth largest military budget in the world”

Really?

Wall Street Journal
October 21, 2010
Pg. 15

Britain Bows Out Of The Security Game

New defense cuts will leave the U.K. unable to support even its current deployment in Afghanistan.

By Max Boot

The Strategic Defense and Security Review released this week by Prime Minister David Cameron is bad news for anyone who believes that a strong Britain is a vital bulwark of liberty. Granted, the news isn’t as bad as it could have been. The government will cut “only” 8% from the defense budget over the next four years—not the 10% to 20% that had been rumored. Britain will continue to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense—far less than the U.S. (nearly 5%) but more than most members of the European Union.

In announcing the cutbacks, Mr. Cameron promised that Britain would still “punch above its weight.” His words ring hollow.

Which has led to strange bedfellows…

The Economist

France and Britain think the unthinkable on defence

Oct 19th 2010, 22:05 by Bagehot

DAVID Cameron headed to the House of Commons today to unveil the new shape of Britain’s armed forces. For an hour and a half he fielded questions from MPs about planned cuts to the three services, vowing to all comers that Britain would still be able to project power across the world. It was a deft performance, but the truly startling part for me was hearing a Conservative prime minister say, not once but repeatedly, that Britain’s future clout lay in working with its two closest allies, “the United States and France.” Playing down the fact that from now until 2019 the cuts mean that Britain will not be able to fly fighter jets off an aircraft carrier, Mr Cameron specifically noted that at least one of two new aircraft carriers under construction would be redesigned with catapults so that it could take American and French aircraft.

Asked by an MP what had changed to make Britain so keen to work with France, the prime minister said that (a) President Nicolas Sarkozy was very keen on this planned cooperation, (b) Mr Sarkozy had shown willing by putting France back into the military command structures of NATO and (c) that France and Britain were both determined to maintain and enhance their defence capabilities. To translate these cautious words into plain English, Mr Cameron was telling MPs: (a) France is a serious military power, indeed the only other serious military power in Europe (b) Mr Sarkozy is a radical pragmatist whose decision to rejoin NATO’s military structures buried decades of Gaullist anti-Americanism and (c) like Britain, France is broke.

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