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

Sunday, September 23, 2012

US Foreign Policy: What to expect next?

The presidential elections in the US always set a paradigm shift in the perception and execution of the nations’ foreign policy, and the entrenched differences between the democrat and the republican visions of politics leave an apparent print in the elaboration of legislations and decisions pertinent to the US foreign policies.
The last election, which outcome elevated the first African-American democrat to the presidential office, is one of the instances where the changes pursued between two different administrations in state foreign policy are widely acknowledged.  The Bush administration, with a strong neo-conservative approach to politics, advocated a staunch and aggressive foreign policy which prioritized national interests over the communal and comprehensive welfare of the international community. The unilateral decisions, sanctions and military interventions operated outside of the UN mandate and which bore consequences with global reach draw world reluctance and disagreement with US actions, skyrocketing thus the levels of animosity towards the US in the European and Muslim world especially to unprecedented levels between 2001 and 2008[1]. This key feature of the Bush vision for world politics driven by confrontation and aggressive defense of interests abroad was widely overturned by the Obama administration.
The transition from a period of declared warfare which engaged the US in multiple combats notably the Iraqi and Afghani interventions, to a period of active diplomacy and termination of conflicts has made the switch of administrations have a blatant impact on the foreign policy of the US.
The major characteristics which shaped US and World politics between 2001 and 2008 are the wars led by the Bush administration, making the sole focal point of decision makers of a political and military nature. The clumsy approach to the economic aspect of foreign policy though has been given less importance in the precedent administration, and this neglect has been catastrophic in turn, leading to a global crisis which untreated underpinnings still have a major bearing on the current financial downturns in world markets[2]. The efforts channeled towards pursuing foreign interests shifted attention from domestic financial affairs, and the logical outcome was an economy drained by both military ventures and lack of innovative legislations to sustain American economic competitiveness and strength. A shaking US economy and a war-driven increase in oil prices made it inevitable for world economy to sink in an already started crisis in the corridors of Wall Street.
During a presidential period, accumulating successes and achievements is the driving force of policy making, and the intent of the former republican administration to aggregate attainments was primary focused on short term investments meant at domestic consumption. The arrogant foreign policy of the Bush administration was overturning the interests of the US allies, putting some at risk and others at deep embarrassments with their populace with the sole motivation of asserting US force and integrity which has been shattered by the 9/11 attacks. The most powerful nation, with its most negative attributes related time and again in novels and romans, was ultimately depicted by the United States of America.
The year of 2008 was a cornerstone in world politics, with deep impact on US domestic and foreign policy. The global crisis shifted the attention of law makers towards the financial welfare of the state instead of its political and diplomatic assets abroad. The financial downturn, coupled with the continuous rise of the Asian nations, turned US economic competitiveness into a major issue for the presidential cabinet. This shift in diplomacy from securing political and military alliances towards engaging in economic partnerships is clearly depicted in Obama’s National Security Strategy:
“Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit”[3]
This is a logical policy enterprise as the economic performances of a nation are the sole leverage for securing and pursuing interests abroad, funding military ventures and implementing institutions and establishments meant to advance the political, financial, cultural and religious affiliates of the nation ideological stances.
This economy oriented strategy is likely to determine the future of the American politics post 2012. The European debt crisis and the expansion of Chinese and Indian economies is challenging the financial capabilities of the US, and regaining economic partnership, or slowing American financial fall in front of “the rise of the rest”, will set the pace for US foreign policy in the next decades. The quality of the presidential republican contender hints to the nature of policies he will prioritize: Mitt Romney is a renowned businessman with deep insights in the corporate world. With such a presidential nominee, the republicans want to assert to the public that economy rehabilitation and revitalization will make it to the top priorities in the presidents’ agenda.
What is worth noting is that, in a world where the rise of rest becomes more apparent than ever, the threats towards American monopoly are evident and effective. As Fareed Zakaria advances in his “Post-American world” masterpiece:
At the politico-military level, we remain in a single superpower world. But in every other dimension – industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural – the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.
What confirms the emergence of an economy oriented US foreign policy is the actual state of world politics. The entrenched ideological differences between communism and capitalism, and which have been fueling world politics and foreign policies for much of the 2nd half of the 20th century, are now fading in favor of a strong partnership between ideologically opposed nations. The US is now engaging Beijing in all levels, implementing treaties and pacts in the fields of diplomacy, culture and finance. With the recurrent high profile visits to China, US chief foreign policy makers send string signals that the China of Human Rights abuses and political totalitarianism is becoming less important than the China of investments, unprecedented economic growth and large exports scores.
Whether it is President Obama or Mitt Romney, the challenges which highlighted the 2001- 2012 are now steadily overturned: The World is emerging stronger than ever from the Global crisis, with a broader union and conglomeration into global financial establishments and legislations, and with an Al Qaeda leadership shattered to pieces after high profile assassinations, the world security and peace are less prone to disturbances and large scale terrorist operations.  The post 2012 challenges are different and require a new approach and strategy: How to stay competitive in world markets in front of Chinese manufactured goods and Indian cheap services?
This is what pushes the foreign policy agenda of the next president to be consumed mainly by Asia-Pacific top priorities, and continuous focus on engaging in trade partnerships, opening new markets and facilitating the emergence of new liberal governments in the Asian continents will ultimately become recurrent news in the next 4 years presidential mandate. In a world where top players are not necessarily its biggest military forces, the diplomatic ties are likely to be strengthened with economic pioneers, and the US-BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South-Africa) relations will indeed shape the world diplomacy and politics, following the prophetic theory of Karl Marx who asserted in his “economic determinism” that human history and global political structures are determined by the course of its economic status.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Poverty Becomes a Myth (Part 1)

The series of essays "When Poverty Bcomes a Myth" aims at drawing attention towards the flaws of our current approaches to the global challenge of poverty. Though the economic, political, humanitarian and social strategies to counter poverty proliferate, the results remain the greatest witness of their recurrent failures. Throughout the series of short articles I will be publishing, you'll find a comprehensive set of recommendations and general proposals which appeal more to the common sense rather than to our understanding of the intricate mechanisms of politics, economis and society.

Political Reforms & Good governance

Poverty is far from being an offspring of resources shortage alone, it is truly the legacy of a far greater disaster looming over the globe: Corruption!
Looking back at the African continent with which we associate socio-economic backwardness, the resources in there are far from being scarce, and the oil, diamond, gold and agriculture are few aspects of the wealth present in profusion. What undermines these resources is not the lacking human wealth either, it is far and foremost the political leadership and centers of command whose manipulation of the nations’ production is all but wise and guided.

The case of Equatorial Guinea is a flamboyant case of African oil rich nations crippling under poverty due to corruption and political tyranny. As reported by the Global Witness:

“In 2011, Global Witness reported that his flamboyant son Theodorin Obiang commissioned a personal super-yacht with a handsome price tag of $380 million, worth three times the country’s combined budget for health and education.”[1]

The case pleads for a prioritization of anti-corruption measures as a pre-requisite for poverty fighting. The state restructuration through the elimination of centers of powers is a prominent step towards fair distribution and exploitation of resources, but looking deeper into the cultural aspects of African Politics, there is a key feature to explore: the culture of fear.

African politics is always tainted with political figures with unlimited powers, in most cases tyrannical and in few barbarians. The genocides and group massacres led by government militias and presidential paramilitary troops are common currency, and the people’s responses are a scarce commodity. It is indeed unthinkable to still picture African states where rulers dominate a disgraced populace in the 21st century, a century where democracy, human rights and grassroots movements are weighing variables in the world political chess-game.

Once a nation is unchained from political constraints and totalitarian leaderships, the prospects for growth, economic expansion and welfare state building follows in an inherently natural process. This process is moreover self-sustaining: under democratic state building and governance, the wealth distribution and market liberalism alleviates socio-economic constraints and encourages progress through renovating education which produces efficient, productive and values’ bearers’ citizen who make up the future democratic political frame of the nation.

Though internal political reforms impact directly domestic governance, it facilitates as well development through the resistance of foreign operating parties. African dictatorships have never survived without foreign assistance, be it military, financial or logistical. The same democracies who denounce genocides and human rights violations through the state spokesmen are those who operate the military industrial complex and the financial institutions which provide war criminals throughout the world with the necessary weapons and financing. A true democracy thus allows the wider audiences to question, monitor and assess state performance and stand against narrow profitable relations between state officials and foreign operators. But where does Investment appear in the process of Political democratization?

A tyrant in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia or in the heart of Africa is all but promised for a stable future. Autocracies lay the path for instability and high risks in the long term, thus pushing away investors whose speculations on the value of their assets deems them unprofitable if invested in a nation with potential turmoil in the backyard. The case of Iran, Iraq and several Sub Saharan African nations exemplifies the case: why would banks, multinationals, sovereign funds and individuals put their money in projects that are not guaranteed to last in cases of military coups, wars or social unrests? The high risk investments have proven to be a fashion few years ago, but with the fallouts of the financial crisis, the world post-2008 is far from getting back to the custom of high risk – high benefit ventures.

To be continued...
Mohamed Amine Belarbi

[1] Global Witness, “Son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator plans one of world’s most expensive yachts.” Press release, 28 February 2011.