Expert: Arab Spring has resolved little

'Friday for defending the revolution' in Tahrir Sq, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by flickr user lokha

Despite democratic transformations in a few states, the problems that led to the Arab Spring largely remain unresolved, Dr Toby Dodge, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, told an audience in Manama on 29 May 2012. In his talk, ‘Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring’, Dodge pointed to short- and medium-term factors such as rising food prices and demographic bulges, as well as the broader failed policies of Arab authoritarianism, as some of the causes of the Arab revolutions.

Yet unemployment remained high in the region more than one year after a street vendor in Tunisia set himself alight and a wave of protests began. Many of the youth who spearheaded the uprisings had not been integrated into post-revolutionary transitions.

Dodge said that several factors determined how each country fared during the uprisings. The outcome varied according to the state’s capacity to co-opt, repress or buy off protesters agitating for reform; the ruling elite’s cohesion; and the domestic opposition’s ability to sustain popular mobilisation.

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Drugs: A war lost in Afghanistan

US Marine patrols a poppy field. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. David A. Perez

Nigel Inkster, the IISS’s Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk, has a piece in Foreign Policy examining the failure of the drugs war in Afghanistan. The article – which draws on Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition, a recent Adelphi book Inkster co-authored with Virginia Comolli – looks at the failure of eradication programmes, the limited quantities of trafficked drugs seized, and the largely fruitless efforts to persuade Afghan farmers to grow less profitable or less hardy crops.

Afghanistan is the source of around 60% of the planet’s illicit opium and 80% of illegal heroin, he writes.The United Nations recently reported there had been a 61% rebound in opium production in 2011, and prices were soaring. This is a worrying trend, which seems set to continue after NATO troops leave.’

But with so many vested interests in the trade inside Afghanistan, and global demand for this highly profitable, highly transportable commodity remaining strong, can there ever be a solution? Maybe, suggests Inkster, ‘but not while current conditions of high insecurity and pervasive corruption persist’…

Read more in Foreign Policy


Explaining the UK’s ‘secret justice’ bill

Kenneth Clarke and the Lord Chief Justice. Photo Ministry of Justice UK

By Nigel Inkster, Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk

The United Kingdom justice and security bill published yesterday has been widely criticised by lawyers and civil-rights campaigners for allowing courts to hear evidence in closed sessions in cases of national security. They argue that this erodes a long-established right to open justice. Even UK Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke (above, left) has acknowledged that the bill is ‘less than perfect‘. However, since a Green Paper was introduced last year for discussion, the bill has undergone substantial modifications to try to assuage some of its critics.

The final bill only applies to civil cases involving national security, instead of all cases dealing with sensitive information. Judges, rather than ministers, will determine whether the national-security argument is valid, and whether the use of ‘Closed Material Proceedings’ (CMP) offers the best option for balancing national security and justice. Coroners’ inquests dealing with classified material will never be held in camera.

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Get ready for the Shangri-La Dialogue 2012

With lots of interest in the United States’ military ‘pivot’ to Asia, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta flies into Singapore to speak at the 11th IISS Asia Security Summit (the Shangri-La Dialogue) this weekend. Another lively topic for discussion will be the ongoing tensions  in the South China Sea. Twenty-eight countries and 16 defence ministers will be in attendance at the prestigious summit, which runs 1–3 June.

For the second year, the IISS is running Shangri-La Voices, a blog devoted to the conference. In the run-up to the summit, we’ll be posting on Asian security, and reblogging the most important pieces on IISS Voices.

During the summit, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon (Singapore time), there will be rolling reports, video clips and commentary from all of the sessions over on Shangri-La Voices.


Reading between the lines of Taliban poetry

Listen to a snippet of Taliban poetry (translated below)

A time is coming, a change is coming,
A revolt of white banners is coming.
A caravan of turban-wearers is coming from all directions.

Many British readers were recently surprised to learn that the turban-wearers mentioned in the above verse – the Afghan Taliban – are avid composers and consumers of poetry. The release of Poetry of the Taliban, a compilation edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, has also generated controversy, with one British commander accusing the publishers of giving terrorists ‘the oxygen of publicity’.

But at the IISS this week, the book’s editors argued that if this aspect of Taliban life had been largely overlooked, it suggested other elements were missing in the West’s portrait of its adversaries in Afghanistan. ‘At a time when, internationally, people are trying to engage politically with the Taliban … we think it’s important to bring this all together in terms of understanding who these people are,’ said Strick van Linschoten.

Not everyone will necessarily agree with author William Dalrymple’s back-cover assessment of the ‘black-turbanned Wilfred Owens of Wardak’. However, Kuehn contended that the volume’s 235 verses – touching on love, nature, combat, nationalism, suffering and discontent – might read less like propaganda than people imagine.

Poetry plays an important role in everyday life in Afghanistan, the authors explained, where it is an oral tradition. People keep poems on their cellphones, swap MP3 files and even use couplets ‘to decisively win an argument’. The Taliban are often thought of as lacking in culture, with their bans on music and films, and their destruction of the huge Bamiyan buddhas. As a consequence ‘the omnipresence of these aesthetic and cultural elements in people’s lives often goes unnoticed, at least in international coverage’, said Strick van Linschoten.

He and Kuehn, the co-founders of online research and media-monitoring service AfghanWire, first became acquainted with Taliban poetry while in Kandahar working on Mullah Zaeef’s memoir, My Life With The Taliban. The pair have also written An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban/Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan 1970-2010.

Their latest collaboration draws on verses published on the Taliban’s website and older pre-9/11 recordings, plus several specially commissioned poems.

Listen to the full discussion: Poetry of the Taliban


Iran: can a ‘freeze for a freeze’ be achieved?

As talks in Baghdad over Iran’s nuclear programme extend into a second, unscheduled day, IISS Director of Non-proliferation Mark Fitzpatrick has an opinion piece in the National in which he argues that Iran has exaggerated expectations of the negotiations, and that further meetings will probably be needed before any concrete results can be produced.

The six major powers involved in the talks (France, Germany, the UK, China, Russia and the US, known as the E3+3 or P5+1) are asking Iran to stop the 20% uranium enrichment under way mostly at its underground facility at Fordow, and not to commence any other enrichment operations there. In addition, its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium must be made unavailable for weapons use, ideally by exporting it to Turkey or elsewhere, or by chemical conversion to a form unusable for weapons.

In exchange, Iran would hope for some form of sanctions relief, as well as the provision of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Its interlocutors have already made concessions over matters of process, by agreeing to talks in Baghdad conducted within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which does not prohibit uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. But, says Fitzpatrick: ‘The West can forego further sanctions only if Iran foregoes progress towards a nuclear weapon capability.’ Removal of sanctions ‘would be an impossible sell in Washington during an election year’.

Read the full article: Tehran’s expectations exceed the possible in Baghdad talks


Buying into Smart Defence

Chicago Nato Summit (Chicago Nato Summit Committee, photo by Will Knight

IISS’s Alexander Nicoll says a weak point at the recent NATO summit in Chicago was the failure so far to involve the defence industry more closely in the Smart Defence project. This is a topic that also interests Bastian Giegerich, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for European Security. ‘Smart Defence will not blow over and go away as earlier capability initiatives have,’ Giegerich says in an article co-authored by Henrik Breitenbauch, from the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for Military Studies. Rather, this is ‘the beginning of a new way of thinking about how NATO does defence, including procurement’.

So instead of being influenced by past attempts into thinking of international cooperation in terms of delays and market-distorting principles, industry should seize the opportunity to ‘sell products that would not otherwise be sold’.

‘While earlier doctrinal revolutions have been about creating joint and combined forces, smart defence adds a third essential leg: internationalisation,’ the authors write. … ‘Each new capability development project will from the outset be designed with at least one allied nation.’ Indeed, Giegerich and Breitenbauch suggest, some new spending will probably only get green-lit if it is international.

It is easy to criticise Smart Defence, Giegerich admits in another article in the latest issue of Survival. ‘Some will say it is a fancy new term for old ideas. Others might argue that it will not work, for a whole host of reasons, or suggest that projects long under way or lacking ambition have been repackaged to create the illusion of progress.’ Yet, while acknowledging the validity of these criticisms, he insists that the challenge remains to make better use of scarce resources in an era of uncertainty. ‘This, after all, is the core business of strategy,’ Giegerich says.

Read more in Survival: NATO’s Smart Defence: Who’s Buying?



Chicago moves ‘Smart Defence’ forward

US President Barack Obama throws a football during the NATO Chicago summit. White House photo Pete Souza

By Alexander Nicoll, IISS Director of Editorial

As defence budgets are being reduced, the NATO Alliance faces the prospect of a significant weakening of its collective capacity to ensure security for its members. But closer coordination on what to keep and what to cut could significantly mitigate the effect of spending cuts by individual allies. Decisions taken at the just-completed NATO summit in Chicago represented an encouraging step towards improved cooperation.

Leaders pushed forward the Smart Defence initiative of Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in several ways. They approved a ‘Defence Package’ designed to advance the three strands of Rasmussen’s plan: prioritisation, cooperation and specialisation. The last of these is especially sensitive because it could involve countries deliberately dispensing with particular capabilities and relying on others to provide them on operations – thus raising issues of sovereignty.

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