Sunday, September 30, 2012
Human security in NATO strategies
The North Atlantic alliance has a rich portfolio of military interventions and operations throughout the world, a portfolio which not only gathers successful military involvements, but also wide criticism for failures to protect and secure civilians in areas struck by the curse of war and conflict. The Kosovo intervention and the operations in Afghanistan are striking examples of how objective-driven military strategies overcome the necessity to ponder the implications of intervention and operations on civilians and non-military personnel.
A working plan mainly based on strategic bombings (as in Kosovo), or on short term efficient destruction of enemy operational forces and arms is all but considerate to the importance to protect civilians both in the short and long term of ongoing conflicts. It is important and indeed crucial to assess the success of any intervention by its potential to protect the civilians on the ground rather than by the potential losses the intervention can incur on hostile forces. In the 21st century, aerial supremacy is fading as main course of action to defeat ground forces, especially that today’s targeted forces are not conventional armies but militias with street warfare techniques. Resolving to aerial bombings and drone strikes is condemning the conflict to bear heavy casualties on civilians since the hostile militias (ex: al Qaeda, Al Shabab…) take from civilian residential blocks footholds and grounds to launch rocket attacks and furtive assaults. This not only leads to embarrassment with local administrations and authorities, but puts at risk the success of any military intervention since it alienates the foreign troops on the ground and catalyzes rogue operations as it has been happening in Afghanistan with the NATO led coalition.
The solution then?: A rising field of military intelligence which studies and analyzes the subtleties of the cultural mix of targeted areas, and adapts the missions to the sensitivities of the society in order to build strong collaboration with local civilians instead of keeping them on the sidelines. Cultural intelligence, as I came to understand through a lecture I attended in Abu Dhabi and through a conversation I had with a US intelligence personnel in Morocco, is rising to prominence in international affairs, defense and security agendas, a rise which started with the gulf war and kept on gaining interest through the following military conflicts which spanned in the Middle East and elsewhere. A military intervention can never be won by planes or troops only, it is far and foremost won by the establishment of trust between the locals and the intervening troops, and also though the creation of tensions if not repugnance towards the operating militias in the region.
NATO operating officers and troops ought to understand the complexities of the boundaries they operate within, and to do so require a clear grasp of the language, religion, traditions and customs as well as the ethnical tensions existing in order to exploit them in achieving key goals with minimal losses of troops and civilians. A NATO leadership which overlooks the tensions between Shias and Sunnis, tribal affiliations and secessionist movements will induce civil war confrontations after any military intervention (Kurds/Shias/Sunnis tensions in Iraq, Sunni/Shia divide in Syria, Tribal conception of power in Libya and Yemen), and these are the byproducts of war which inflict the greatest losses in civilian ranks.
NATO strategies in future military interventions should attend to key points amongst which is a thorough understanding of the tribal, religious and ethnical discrepancies, and based on such assessment, any military intervention should aim at inflicting defeat upon the hostile force and establishing a distribution of power in which the ruling majority before the intervention is likely to secure control over state management. Such distribution of power should not empower authoritarian majorities against the interest of existing minorities, but should secure arrangements and political pacts which will render any future majority-led repression impossible. To do so, NATO should attend to the destruction of most of the hostile groups’ military arsenal; with the systematic elimination of its key figures I order to transform its leadership into a void and obsolete center of command. Furthermore, NATO officials should empower dissidents among a targeted regime or militias through financing and intelligence support in order to break down the efficiency of the target and deviate its focus from external confrontations towards internal struggles. An example is the Iraqi case: with former ruling Sunni elite, today’s Iraq empowered Kurds and Shias is in total chaos due to sectarian conflicts raging throughout the nation. If the coalition intervening in Iraq weakened the Baath party and encouraged dissidence amongst its rank, facilitating the restructuration of the regime without necessary inducing its collapse, a Baath regime with moderate approach to the US and with a fierce grasp on the Iraqi sectarian mix could have prevented the civil war which tears the country apart today.
In other cases such as a potential intervention in Syria, NATO’s strategy should dismiss air strike due to the urban density of the country (unlike Libya where air strikes were successful due to low urbanization), instead prioritizing proxy intervention and regional interference. With direct confrontation, NATO strategy is ultimately deeming the coalition to severe human losses both in the military and civilian ranks because of the blending of fighters, both rebels and regime troops, in the urban setting. A NATO airstrike would be as disastrous as its previous intervention in Kosovo, thus utilizing ground forces acquainted with the geography, demographics, culture and religious environment instead of NATO personnel would be far more successful.
The rebel networks, evolving and getting more complicated, are losing the structural basis they were first based on. The disruption in the chain of command is what leads to unpredictable situations post-regime fall such as that in Libya were militias outside the authority of the state proliferate. The NATO, by channeling efforts, resources, intel and personnel in a directed flow can indeed establish a rebel structure which is organized in the same fashion as conventional military and prone on being converted into an armed authority wing under a single command. This will greatly reduce collateral damages emerging from uncontrolled military units and will enhance the efficiency of rebel operations against rogue states.
Besides the military nature of its operations, NATO should conduct nation building efforts through programs aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of the country targeted, as it is the best way to win the hearts and minds of local populace who are the best actors to exploit and direct towards leading insurgency against authoritarian states and terrorist groups. An inside rejection of a regime or repressive militia is far more powerful in determining the course of action domestically, and way more inexpensive in terms of humanitarian losses. As civilian resources are and will always be the key decisive currency of any conflict or resolution, it is necessary and critical for NATO to adopt civilian-friendly strategies which not only will boost its reputation cross-seas, but will also make from risky operations with alarming consequences a scarce commodity in the 21st century.
Mohamed Amine Belarbi