The debate about Trident

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor

It was, several older colleagues told me, one of the most thought-provoking discussions they had heard at the institute. With Britain’s ageing Trident nuclear deterrent in the news again – as defence cuts bite and a divided coalition government reviews the options for a replacement system – four of the United Kingdom’s most respected former civil servants came to Arundel House last week and delivered a one-and-half-hour masterclass in nuclear policy.

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Life post-Taliban: solving local grievances key

Former Taliban members cut past ties, return to Afghan society during reintegration shura

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a key part of the transition to Afghan security leadership will be persuading members of the Taliban insurgency to reconcile with the government in Kabul. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) designed to do this has so far encouraged 5,000 insurgents to give up their weapons, according to Major General David Hook of the Royal Marines.

Hook told the IISS this week that only 20% of Taliban interviewed as they entered the programme claimed to be fighting for ideological reasons. Often, they were motivated instead by local grievances.

‘Part of the design of the APRP was to address these local grievances,’ said Hook. ‘If you address [the grievance] locally, you can pull them in.’ This was particularly important because analysis also showed that more than 75% of ordinary fighters remained within 20 miles of their village. About 78% of all those joining the APRP process said they did so because they were tired of fighting.

The APRP, an Afghan-led social reintegration process backed by international funding, is one of three related reconciliation-and-reintegration ‘tracks’ in Afghanistan, alongside political negotiations towards a ‘grand bargain’ between the government and Taliban leaders, and so-called ‘high-level reintegration’ seeking to persuade insurgent leaders to stop fighting the government and support it instead.

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Staying on-message in Afghanistan

Major General Carsten Jacobson, former ISAF spokesperson, at the IISS.

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Despite their objections to the proliferation of mobile phones and social media among the Afghan population, the Taliban are increasingly adept at using them, says former ISAF spokesperson Major General Carsten Jacobson (above). Afghan Taliban tweeting ‘is quite a challenge, one that we have tried to counter’, he said at the IISS this week, adding that this was obviously not an easy task for a military organisation. (This Washington Post article has more on the subject.)

A media-savvy Taliban was just one of the challenges facing ISAF during Major General Jacobson’s time as the organisation’s spokesperson from June 2011 to May 2012. Responsible for coordinating ISAF’s message on its activities in Afghanistan, he found that the subject of the security transition from NATO to Afghan forces defined his tenure. Very soon after Jacobson took up his post, then-ISAF commander General David Petraeus (who resigned as CIA head last week) announced that the US would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, with the goal of a full drawdown by the end of 2014.

Transition meant not just an effective transfer of administration in security and government but also in civilian matters, Jacobson said. ‘Transition is the key driver of everything that happens … [it should be] an Afghan process driven from the bottom to the top … from villages to provinces.’

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Juncker: why Asia should care about the euro

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Now is ‘a very good time’ for Asia to be open to greater partnership with Europe, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg. Delivering the seventh IISS Fullerton Lecture in Singapore this week, Juncker pointed out that Asia was Europe’s largest external trade partner, ‘with flows of goods and services growing again after the global slowdown, and stocks of foreign direct investment … amounting to more than a trillion euros’.

Juncker said cooperation between the EU and Asia was growing, with an EU–South Korea free-trade agreement coming into effect a year ago, and negotiations with several Asian partners and ASEAN on similar deals. There were also plans to finalise agreements with Singapore and India.

‘I foresee the economic health of the euro area as closely intertwined with that of its global partners, of whom Asia represents the largest,’ he said.

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How Iran learned to love the atom

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Iran has seen its nuclear programme as a route to modernity since the time of the Shah, journalist and author David Patrikarakos says. Appreciating this attitude towards nuclear technology is essential to understanding modern Iran and its current diplomatic clash with the West.

Patrikarakos is the author of Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State, and speaking on a IISS panel this week, he painted the country as one preoccupied with strengthening its geopolitical position after decades of perceived weakness and Western hostility. As in other developing nations, nuclear technology was perceived as a way to address a ‘prestige deficit’ in relation to the West.

Major Western powers and Israel have been concerned in recent years by Tehran’s high level of unnecessary uranium enrichment and other activity pointing to its possible development of nuclear weapons. Fellow panellist Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, a lecturer on Contemporary Middle East and Iran at the University of Manchester, said it was hard to assess Iran’s real intentions for its nuclear programme – whether it planned to produce nuclear weapons or not – because the programme had been ‘jostled’ around by different governments and state organisations, which lacked a cohesive strategy.

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Our ‘better angels’ and foreign policy

The Better Angels of Our Nature

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Robert D. Kaplan, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, describes an ‘intellectual event’ as ‘something that happens when large numbers of well-educated people are all discussing one book or article that contains a big, abstract idea’. The publication in October 2011 of Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, is the most recent example of such an event, wrote Kaplan when he reviewed the book for Stratfor.

Pinker’s central thesis is that, contrary to our perceptions about past and present dangers, humans are becoming progressively less violent. He draws evidence for his claim from a variety of disciplines: history, statistics, sociology, biology and political science, in addition to Pinker’s own field of evolutionary psychology. In a review essay for Survival, Adam Roberts described the book as a work of ‘extraordinary range, boldness and thoroughness’.

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US Congress: pinning hopes on the lame duck?

United States Capitol

United States Capitol. Photo Credit:Flick Creative Commons/Vince Alongi

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

As the presidential campaigns take centre stage, in Washington the conventional wisdom on preventing  $1.2 trillion automatic across-the-board cuts (‘sequestration’) is that Congress and the White House will strike a deal on an alternative debt-reduction plan in the so-called ‘lame duck’ legislative session – after the election and before the new year. But as the deadline approaches, this no longer looks like a certainty.

With half of the impending cuts slated for the defense budget, the US defense industry is feeling the tension. In July, Lockheed Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens testified before Congress that ‘the very prospect of sequestration is already having a chilling effect on the industry’. According to a Bloomberg Government report, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics spent $10.3 million on lobbying and spreading awareness on the possible effects of sequestration in the first quarter of 2012.  

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Timely questions on Libya attacks, Middle East at Strategic Survey 2012 launch

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

The recent attacks on US consulates in Libya and Egypt may shift the western perspective of what’s happening in the Arab world, but how things will play out within Libya and Egypt is a far more pressing question, argues Emile Hokayem, IISS Senior Fellow for Regional Security-Middle East.

On 11 September, US Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi – possibly part of a pre-planned strike by a militant group – amid protests over a film about the prophet Mohammed. Protesters also stormed the US consulates in Cairo and in Yemen, and unrest continues to spread.

Hokayem, speaking at the press conference for the Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs launch in London, noted that while the details of the attack are still unclear,  it was worth considering what Stevens himself would have said about the situation:‘[He] would not want revenge or disengagement; he would have argued for renewed investment and attention in these critical periods.’ But what matters most in a strategic sense, Hokayem argues, is the reaction from the Libyan and Egyptian governments: ‘This will be the real test, especially for Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, in terms of their international credibility.’

Hokayem said the Libyan government was very clear in its condemnation, but Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi waited some time before making a statement. Whether the political elites in Libya and Egypt can effectively combat extremist sentiment is crucial for their international legitimacy. ‘This is the tragedy of mainstream Islamist movements,’ said Hokayem.  ‘They can easily be outflanked by more extremist factions that frame everything in terms of identity, and not in terms of public governance choices and not in terms of the need for international recognition.’

Hokayem responded to several questions on Libya and other regional security issues at the launch, where opening remarks by Dr John Chipman, touching on significant security themes in the volume, were followed by a Q & A session addressed to a panel of regional experts. Issues discussed included Middle East security – including Syria, Iran and Israel – terrorism in North Africa, China and Japan’s maritime tensions and the Eurozone crisis.

Another timely question dealt with the likelihood of a strike by Israel against Iran: ‘There is a possibility of an Israeli strike this autumn,’ said Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the IISS’s Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, in response. ‘But it is a reduced possibility, given the divergence of views in Israel.’

Fitzpatrick explained that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak seems to be acknowledging Obama’s commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still maintains that Obama’s commitment is not credible.

‘There’s not a consensus in the inner Israeli security cabinet for a strike, and so it’s unlikely,’ said Fitzpatrick.

Watch the full press conference here.


Foreign policy in the US election – a back seat?

The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida

The Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida

The 2012 US presidential election will be won or lost on the economy, so it was no surprise that at the Republican National Convention (RNC), jobs and healthcare dominated – but foreign policy did make an appearance, with Mitt Romney devoting three minutes of a 39-minute speech to the issue. Neither his platform nor his speech suggest specific alternatives to President Barack Obama if he were to take office, but he has been distinguishing himself Obama in other ways in his election campaign: defence cuts and the role of the military in future foreign policy and, relatedly, the role of US leadership. Read the rest of this entry »


‘The euro is irreversible’

By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor

Klaus Regling, head of the European Union’s bailout fund, says the EU is moving in the right direction after its debt crisis, but that Greece’s future in the eurozone depends on its progress in meeting the terms of its bailout.

Speaking at the fifth IISS Fullerton lecture in Singapore, Regling, the CEO of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), was cautiously optimistic about the future of the euro and of the EU. Regling said structural reforms and action taken by EU governments to address the sovereign debt crisis were beginning to show signs of success:  ‘Ireland shows now a current account surplus after sizable deficits in earlier years, Spain is getting very close to a current account balance [and] Greece and Portugal have reduced their current account deficits by two thirds,’ he said. Read the rest of this entry »


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