Christian Le Miere: An exercise in deterrence

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By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

Although the Shangri-La Dialogue will hold much of the Institute’s – and international – attention over the coming week, the IISS will remain active on other issues.

Yesterday, the IISS’ Bahrain office held the NATO Gulf Strategic Dialogue, bringing together a range of practitioners and academics, and in just under a week the Geo-Economics and Strategy Programme will run a seminar on Oil, Gas and Maritime Security.

The timing of these two sessions is not entirely coincidental. Just last week, the US Navy wrapped up its second annual two-week International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise (IMCMEX). Involving participants from 41 different countries, the exercises are essentially a form of deterrent diplomacy.

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Pushing for US-Russia ‘reset 2.0’

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By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor

The US ‘reset’ towards Russia during the first Obama administration had created ‘dividends for European security’, the IISS’s new senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia told an audience in London this week – even if this positive effect was underappreciated. However, relations with Russia in Obama’s second term would be complicated by Vladimir Putin’s recent return to the presidency and Putin’s less apparent warmth towards Washington than predecessor Dmitry Medvedev.

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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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What Libya tells us

Life after Gadhafi: celebrations in Tripoli at the end of the regime. Photo: NATO

In a new blog post over at RAND, Christopher S. Chivvis gives readers a taste of an article on Libya that he’s written for the IISS journal Survival: Global Politics and Strategy. Although the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in September raised fresh doubts about NATO’s military intervention in Libya, Chivvis argues that nothing has changed the fact that, in toppling Muammar Gadhafi, last year’s intervention opened the door to a better future for the country. ‘Without it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent civilians would have died and the pro-democracy protest movements sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa would probably have been slowed,’ he writes. ‘From this perspective it remains a genuine, even if moderate, success for NATO.’

Could that success be repeated? After chronicling the particular circumstances surrounding the Libya campaign, he concludes that the lessons are limited. ‘Libya does not tell us much about how useful the lower-cost, lighter footprint adopted there can be under more challenging conditions, or when the objective is broader and more transformational, as was the case at the outset in Iraq and Afghanistan.

‘But’, he stresses, ‘it does serve, at a minimum, as a reminder that military power has a role to play in toppling tyrants and saving people from humanitarian disasters.’

Download the full Survival article, ‘Libya and the Future of Liberal Intervention’.


Afghanistan – A bloody weekend, but not necessarily a tipping point

A soldier from the Mobility Recce Force of 1 Royal Welsh is pictured on patrol with colleagues from the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Nad-E' Ali, Helmand.

A soldier from the Mobility Recce Force of 1 Royal Welsh is pictured on patrol with colleagues from the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Nad-E’ Ali, Helmand. Photo Credit:UK Ministry of Defence

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

It has been a week of bad news from Afghanistan, after further ‘green-on-blue’ attacks, fallout from video protests sweeping the Middle East and NATO announcing a temporary retreat. But in reality, the picture is more nuanced and there are reasons to be optimistic – provided tensions arising from the video can be diffused.

The headlines have suggested setbacks to the joint NATO/Afghan strategy of transition to Afghan leadership of security and withdrawal of NATO combat forces by the end of 2015.  In addition to the violent protests against the provocative ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video, there was a well-planned and determined attack on the UK/US base at Camp Bastion in which six US and UK troops were killed by men in Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) uniform.

NATO’s announcement that ‘in response to elevated threat levels…ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] has taken some prudent, but temporary, measures to reduce our profile and vulnerability to civil disturbances or insider attacks’ has resulted in a reduction of low-level tactical partnering with the Afghan forces below battalion level has caused a predictable flurry of commentary and speculation in Western media.

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Mullah Omar’s Eid message

Muslims from throughout the world gather at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 16, for the start of Eid al-Adha, a religious holiday beginning after Hajj.

Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Eid al-Adha 2010. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/isafmedia

By Hameed Hakimi, Research Assistant, Armed Conflict Database

A statement released by Taliban leader Mullah Omar to mark the end of Ramadan conveyed a tone of optimism for the Taliban’s tactical achievements, as well as a vision for the future and a statement of commitment to the Afghan people.  In the following weeks, facts on the ground have challenged both Mullah Omar’s assessment of Afghanistan and his claims about the Taliban’s intentions. But these realities should also serve as a reminder that ordinary citizens face conflicting messages and broken promises from both the Taliban insurgency and Afghanistan’s political leadership.

Mullah Omar’s Eid-ul-Fitr message was published on the Taliban’s website on16 August 2012.  In 34 points, it set out his vision for a post-2014 Afghanistan, and reiterated the movement’s criticisms about the presence of Western troops and the government in Kabul.  For those who lived under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a direct message from the reclusive Mullah Omar is a rarity. During its control of the country until 2001, the Taliban leadership’s communication with ordinary Afghans was restricted to public order commandments and moral judgments on points of Sharia law.

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Syria: foreign intervention still debated, but distant

A family escapes from fierce fighting between Free Syrian Army fighters and government troops in Idlib, north Syria, Saturday, March 10, 2012 (by FreedomHouse from Flickr under Attribution 2.0 Generic CC BY 2.0 license).

From Strategic Comments

The debate over external intervention in Syria has grown in recent weeks as the humanitarian toll of its revolution-turned-civil war rapidly mounts, atrocities by government forces multiply, pressure increases on Turkey and other neighbouring states, and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad resorts to the use of air power.

So far, Western countries have exhibited little enthusiasm for military intervention, and Russia has blocked most possible actions by the United Nations. For the United States, President Barack Obama indicated in August that the use or transfer of chemical weapons would constitute a clear red line. However, the crossing of other presumed red lines since the revolution began in March 2011 has not prompted any direct external intervention. The complexity of the crisis, its regional repercussions, the deadlock at the UN and the projected costs of any military operations have deterred other states. None has sought to make a decisive entry into the fray that could tip the balance of power.

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Grim watch at Farnborough: How far will defence spending fall

Farnborough International Airshow

By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace

The ebb and flood of transatlantic defense relations has long been in evidence at the Farnborough air show, at the political and industrial level both. A question on the minds of many of the more than 100,000 daily attendees will be just how low the spending tide could eventually drop, as Washington’s interest is now focused firmly on another ocean while Europe flounders in debt.

The 2012 show is the aerospace and defence industry’s first full opportunity to come together since the U.S. administration’s revised strategic guidance outlined ‘re-balancing’ toward the Asia Pacific, while sustaining its commitment in the Middle East. Europe, for more than half a century the preoccupation of US defence interest, also became the subject of a “strategic opportunity to re-balance.” In keeping with the general tenor of the defence debate in Europe this is certain to be in terms of a withdrawal. Read the rest of this entry »


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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