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Foreign Policy

Archive | Foreign Policy

Tanks in Cyberspace

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Infantrymen curiously eye the new British Army weapon – a Mark I ‘tank’ – before its debut in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Photo: IWM-Q 5574

What are the similarities between tanks and cyberspace? What lessons can be identified and learned?

Infantrymen curiously eye the new British Army weapon – a Mark I ‘tank’ – before its debut in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916. Photo: IWM-Q 5574

When the British first used the tank in combat at Flers-Courcelette in April of 1916 and then more successfully at the Battle of Cambrai in November a year later, there was likely little further thought given to the larger implications of this new weapon system capability, beyond the hope and investment in the belief that the trinity of its firepower, protection and mobility would be decisive in breaking the stalemate of trench warfare. Tanks did not tip the balance of World War I because they were produced in very small numbers and the few that made it to battlefield were slow, prone to break down, and carried undersized and inaccurate main guns. Commanders seemed unclear how to best utilize them.

By World War II, however, Guderian and others had recognized the tank’s devastating potential and utilized its trinity to deliver a decisive over-match through greatly improved firepower and mobility to enable lightening war, introduced as the radical new concept of Blitzkrieg, in which aircraft, tanks, and infantry each operated at their own best speed toward enemy emplacements. The subsequent staggering success fundamentally altered the execution of war for the German Army of the late 1930s and, furthermore, became the underlying doctrine for maneuver warfare through the Cold War and onward into this century.

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Shootout in Sloviansk: First Confirmed Death and Several Wounded

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Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

A military standoff between Russian SOF soldiers, commonly called “pro-Russian insurgents” and Ukraine’s military led to the first death in Sloviansk, Ukraine.

Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

One man was killed and several others were wounded in a shootout near a roadside checkpoint, under Ukrainian military control. The Russians approached the checkpoint in a civilian car and started shooting at Ukrainian soldiers. According to a local witness, who hid his identity, a man wearing a black uniform, who was killed, was later identified as an SBU officer. “One killed and two wounded,” he explained. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s police chief, confirmed the SBU officer’s death and added five people were injured. As reported by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, there are dead and wounded on both sides while Reuters reported that one man on the Russian side has been killed in action.

The death of the SBU officer could justify the movement of Ukrainian soldiers towards Sloviansk. In fact, Interim President Oleksander Tuchinov said Ukraine is on the verge of launching a full-scale anti-terrorist operation against pro-Russian insurgents, increasing the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow. Free Ukraine, @Ukrainolution, who monitors the situation closely, agreed to the fact that the military movement could be due to the SBU officer’s death.

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Are Russian Troops Operating in Eastern Ukraine?

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Ethnic Russian paramilitaries. But are they under Moscow's orders?

Some, probably, but I don’t think that’s really the point.

Ethnic Russian paramilitaries. But are they under Moscow’s orders?

As western Ukrainian security forces reportedly seek to dislodge ethnic Russian paramilitaries from government buildings in Slaviansk (although that’s now being questioned) and anti-Kyiv forces muster in other eastern Ukrainian cities, allegations are flying thick and fast about the presence of Russian troops in these disturbances. (I should mention that The Interpreter‘s liveblog is an invaluable service in keeping track of all the claims, counterclaims and reports on the ground.)

The facts on the ground are confused, the claims are often overblown, but there does seem to be some basis for believing that limited numbers of Russian agents and special forces are present. However important that undoubtedly may seem, I think focusing on actual bodies on the ground misses the main point: Russia’s real role in this new Great Game is not so much direct but to incite, support and protect the local elites and paramilitaries who are driving the campaign against Kiev.

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Continental Drift: Europe’s Breakaways

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Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

“Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

The opening to Tolstoy’s great novel of love and tragedy could be a metaphor for Europe today, where “unhappy families” of Catalans, Scots, Belgiums, Ukrainians, and Italians contemplate divorcing the countries they are currently a part of. And in a case where reality mirrors fiction, they are each unhappy in their own way.

While the U.S. and its allies may rail against the recent referendum in the Crimea that broke the peninsula free of Ukraine, Scots will consider a very similar one on Sept. 18, and Catalans would very much like to do the same. So would residents of South Tyrol, and Flemish speakers in northern Belgium.

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Kerry’s Self-Imposed Deadline Fast Approaching and the Peace Process Industry

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Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference in London

As the US-imposed April 29 deadline for a ‘framework’ agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority looms, time is also running out for the Obama administration itself. The Obama administration must now conjure up an escape route to avoid a political crisis if the talks are to fail, as they surely will.

Secretary of State John Kerry during a press conference in London

Chances are the Americans knew well that peace under the current circumstances is simply not attainable. The Israeli government’s coalition is so adamantly anti-Arab, anti-peace and anti any kind of agreement that would fall short from endorsing the Israeli apartheid-like occupation, predicated on colonial expansion, annexations of borders, land confiscation, control of holy places and much more. Ideally for Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in the right, far-right and ultranationalists, Palestinians would need to be crammed in disjointed communities, separated from each other by walls, Jewish settlements, Jewish-only bypass roads, checkpoints, security fences, and a large concentration of Israeli military presence including permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley. In fact, while politicians tirelessly speak of peace, the above is the exact ‘vision’ that the Israelis had in mind almost immediately following the 1967 war – the final conquest of all of historic Palestine and occupation of Arab lands.

Palestinians are currently paying the price of earlier Israeli visions, where Vladimir Jabotinsky’s ‘Iron Wall’ of 1923 was coupled with the Allon plan, named after Yigal Allon, a former general and minister in the Israeli government, who took on the task of drawing an Israeli design for the newly conquered Palestinian territories in 67. Not only would it not make any sense for a Zionist leader like Netanyahu – backed by one of the most rightwing governments in Israeli history – to bargain with Palestinians on what he considers to be Eretz Yisrael – the Whole Land of Israel -he has shown no desire, not even the most miniscule, to reach an agreement that would provide Palestinians with any of their rightful demands, true sovereignty notwithstanding.

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What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Look Like?

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Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

I’ve been asked this question a lot, and had the chance to expound on it at a recent event in Parliament sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, so thought I’d briefly outline my thoughts here.

Would Russia find invading Ukraine easier than Crimea?

That said, though, I should stress that the more time passes, the less likely I think such an attack becomes, because of the shifting political situation and also–as Kyiv moves forces east and mobilises reserves and volunteers–the military calculus. However, it cannot be excluded, so it is worth still considering, not least as the preparatory phases I outline below have all been carried out; the Russian General Staff may well not yet know if it is going to be invading, but it has made sure that if the word does come down from the Kremlin, it will be ready.

In brief, the aim would be a blitzkrieg that, before Ukraine has the chance properly to muster its forces and, perhaps more to the point, the West can meaningfully react, allows the Russians to draw a new front line and assert their own ground truth, much as happened in Crimea (though this would be much more bloody and contested). This would not be a bid to conquer the whole country (the real question is whether they’d seek to push as far as Odessa, taking more risks and extending their supply lines, but also essentially depriving Ukraine of a coastline) but instead quickly to take those areas where there are potentially supportive local political elites and Russophone populations, and consequently pretexts (however flimsy) to portray invasion as ‘liberation.’

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The Cycle of Violence: Egypt’s Military Solution

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Residents walk past a banner for Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

More of the same, it would seem, is heading your way if you are living in Egypt. Egypt’s now ex-defence minister, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, is readying himself for power.

Residents walk past a banner for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

He does so by way of caution and a puritanical script favouring austerity. “I cannot make miracles. Rather, I propose hard work and self-denial.” Acknowledging limits should be a matter of course: “We must be truthful with ourselves: our country faces great challenges. Our economy is weak. There are millions of youths who suffer from unemployment in Egypt.” Every strong man needs showmanship and a sense of role play. Muscle is otherwise a reality without sense, a statement of the gym rather than parliament. Sisi provides myth and a sense of assurance in the form of jogging with his troops, donning his fatigues and menacing his enemies with lashing rhetoric.

He also uses his uniform to impress – the oldest trick in the trade of wooing electorates who fear into bed. “True, today is my last day in military uniform, but I will continue to fight every day for an Egypt free of fear and terrorism.” A fit man with a sharp tongue is a formidable man. Whether he is a person who will clean the stables is something else. They may not be up for cleaning in any case. “Key to his political skill,” observes Robert Springborg of the United States Naval Postgraduate School, “has been his secrecy coupled with expert role playing that duped his opponents into thinking he was an unambitious professional officer.” In so doing, he also made a tilt in appeal “to the Egyptian public as the man to lead them out of the post-Mubarak political morass.”

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The Bombs that Failed: NATO and Serbia, 15 Years On

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Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

It is never fitting to be too morose. Sigmund Freud’s distinction between those who mourn from those who are melancholic was fundamental.

Former Bosnian Serb wartime Commander Ratko Mladic pictured with U.S. General Wesley Clark meeting in Banjaluka on August 27, 1994. Ranko Cukovic/Reuters

To mourn is to concede that an act has happened, that it lies in the realm of the undoable and irreversible. One can only learn. To be melancholic is a concession that things have never entirely left, that it lingers, the memory haunting like the sun defying shadow. The wars in the Balkans have tended to foster the melancholia of a past that never leaves, granting it the status of a permanent stand in for the ever present. Such sentinels can make poor company, but they are unavoidable. As Ukraine’s situation accelerates with actions of sanctions, annexations, coups and counter-coups, it is worth noting how another compact was firstly dissolved and then subsequently tortured in the 1990s. The trends are similar – the moralising, the external interference, the bullying of powers extraneous yet obsessed with holding the levers of a disintegrating country.

The Yugoslavian Federation, an experiment bound by the iron fist and held by the iron glove, frayed and then fell apart during the early 1990s. By the time NATO revealed itself, not so much as a defensive alliance as an offensive one, Serbian civilians found themselves the target of a military offensive ostensibly to punish them for their government’s ruthless policies in Kosovo. Never mind the fact that there was a secessionist movement on home soil also dedicated to extreme violence. Nor did it matter that many Serbs were against the authoritarian insanities of the Milošević regime. As some protesters in Maidan can feel sorrowful over, their voices became the distant echoes of intrusion and interference, railroaded and road blocked by other powers.

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Referenda Watching: Crimean Separatism as Fashion

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Rallies in Scotland, Crimea and Spain. Photos: David Moir, Baz Ratner and Gustau Nacarino

It set a trend, but the Crimean referendum has the discussion on separatism tittering away.

Rallies in Scotland, Crimea and Spain. Photos: David Moir, Baz Ratner and Gustau Nacarino

As ever, the narrative of the national compact, bound by mystical unity and statehood, powers the narrative, while separatist movements seek to draw parallels and sketch contrasts. Movements from as far as Catalonia in Spain and Scotland in the UK have taken heed of the referendum. The Spanish case is significant – Spain, along with four other European Union members, have not recognised Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia. Crimea’s new information minister, Dmitry Polonsky, was happy to throw some fuel on the simmering flames of secession across Europe. “It’s the same situation as we will see in Scotland and then Catalonia. So Crimea is the first and we will be happy to share our experiences with them.”

Catalan officials have been on the defensive after the Crimean vote. The desire for independence there, they have argued, can hardly be compared to the heavy handed engineering that took place in Crimea. There was no case of Putin moving his forces into place before the force of the ballot. “The basic difference,” suggests Alfred Bosch, congressional deputy for the Catalan Republican Left party, “is that you can’t compare a process that’s about bullets with a process that’s about ballots. We don’t have any weapons here in Catalonia.” But there is, however, no love lost with Madrid, and the Crimean temptation, by way of comparison, remains strong.

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Iran’s Case against Stuxnet

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Speculation has it that Iran wants to pursue legal action against the US-Israeli led Stuxnet cyberattack.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

If the rumors prove to be true, Iran’s case against the United States could give the international community a great opportunity to use the case as needed momentum towards setting official international regulations on cyberwarfare. Arguably, the Stuxnet cyberattack is an illegal act of force that violated the Charter of the United Nations, the IAEA safeguards regime, and Iranian sovereignty as well.

After the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack, Tehran took a relatively passive posture and never officially complained to international legal channels. Shortly before President Rouhani took office in Tehran, an anonymous Iranian diplomat made public that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had enough evidence to take legal steps against the United States for the Stuxnet cyberattack. If Iran takes legal action against Washington it can demand that it receive compensations for damages caused and having its sovereignty violated by an illegal act of war. A lot is at stake as Iran’s determination against the cyberattack could set boundaries for future illegal cyber behavior.

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The Secessionist Dream: Referenda, Recognition and Crimea

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A polling station in Simferopol on March 16, 2014. Thomas Peter/Reuters

“The international community will not recognize the results of a poll administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.” – White House

A polling station in Simferopol on March 16, 2014. Thomas Peter/Reuters

Referenda tend to be the devices used to seal the kiss of secession. It is an instrument of the ballot box, an expression of popular will. Its first formal use, according to Eugène Solière’s Le Plébiscite dans l’annexion (1901) came in the referendum held by Lyonnais in the 13th century when citizens sought to escape Church rule, with its citizens claiming “themselves subjects of the King of France” and requesting that he “take them under his special care.”

One would think that such action immediately promises it a degree of high status from democratic powers: after all, the ballot box should be gospel, an indicator of “sovereign will” of the people. In practice, responses have been uneven, disingenuous and strategic. International law, for instance, takes an ordered, even glacial view of it. To be recognised, the seceding group must be denied “international self-determination” by the central government. It must also be subject to grave human rights abuses.

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Crimea Votes to Secede from Ukraine as the EU Weighs Sanctions Against Russia

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Triumph or charade? Pro-Russian supporters celebrate in Simferopol. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

Crimeans have voted by a huge margin to secede from Ukraine. According to early reports released after 50% of the ballots had been counted more than 95% of votes were in favour of joining Russia.

Triumph or charade? Pro-Russian supporters celebrate in Simferopol. Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

EU foreign ministers will meet to consider a parcel of sanctions against Russia, said to include visa bans and the freezing of assets of a number of Russian officials. The Crimea referendum has been hailed in Moscow and Simferopol as an opportunity for the people of Crimea to express their preference for the future status of the peninsula and, equally, has been derided as illegal and illegitimate in Kiev, Washington, and across the EU. Following talks on Friday in London with his US counterpart, the Russian foreign minister said that Russia would respect the will of the people of Crimea.

While the problems extend well beyond the legality and legitimacy of the referendum, these issues are good points to start. Under the Ukrainian constitution, a referendum about questions affecting the country’s internationally recognised borders must be nationwide. In this sense, the referendum was clearly in breach of the constitution and any result would be null and void. Voters only had two options: to back an earlier resolution of the Crimean parliament to seek accession to the Russian Federation or reinstate the Crimean constitution of 1992 (subsequently abolished by the Ukrainian parliament).

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UN Reports North Korea Atrocities, Western Indifference

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Like father like son

With events focused on Russia’s incursion into the Crimea and the upcoming referendum on joining Russia, North Korea has receded from the headlines. Even though events in North Korea aren’t garnering headlines, thousands of North Koreans remain rotting in labor camps.

Like father like son

The UN report entitled, “Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” was crucial in reminding us of the Kim regime’s depraved nature. Even though many human rights abuse claims have been openly reported by the media and knowledge of slave and prison labor camps has been in the public domain for decades, this is the very first concerted effort to build a case against the Kim regime’s brutality, by using testimony from hundreds of survivors. Whether any concrete actions will result from the report is the larger question.

Over the years, a number of authors have consistently tried to drive home the fact that North Korea, regardless of which Kim steers the ship, has denied North Koreans basic human rights. Bruce Cummings, in his 1997 masterpiece, Korea’s Place in the Sun, observed, “…if and when the [North Korean] regime falls, we will probably learn of larger numbers [of individuals held in prisons and labor camps] and various unimaginable atrocities.” Moreover, in Kang Chol-Hwan’s The Aquarium of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, the author wrote, “I once believed man was different from other animals, but Yodok showed me that reality doesn’t support this opinion. In the camp, there was no difference between man and beast, except maybe that a very hungry human was capable of stealing food from its little ones while and animal, perhaps, was not.”

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Asia and Airline Security

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Pictured: A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Melbourne. Photo: Mehdi Nazarinia

From 2000 to 2003 I lived in Singapore, and from 2003 to 2007 I lived in Manila. Anyone who has been to both cities knows what a dichotomy they represent on a variety of levels – from degree of development to cost of living to perceived level of safety and comparative chaos involved in getting through the day.

Pictured: A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Melbourne. Photo: Mehdi Nazarinia

Asia is of course about as diverse a landscape as exists on the planet, and these two cities are truly representative of just how different an air traveler’s experience can be in places just three hours flying distance apart. Singapore exudes stability and confidence while Manila feels like perpetual uncertainty. The same may also be said of air travel security in Asia. During my time living there I traveled to more than 20 countries and have seen every conceivable version of airport security, from the gleaming, fabulous airports in cities such as Beijing and Seoul to a dirt strip in rural Papua New Guinea. A couple of years ago I was in rural PNG on business and went to a one room air terminal that had a single security guard, armed with a machete and sling shot! No x-ray machine, no security protocol for passengers – nothing. So much for post 9/11 security!

I have no way of knowing whether the disappearance of Malaysia Air 370 was a result of terrorism, a hijacking, a structural failure, or a conspiracy, but its disappearance got me thinking about some of my travel experiences in Asia over nearly 30 years. I recall living in Singapore in 2001, when 9/11 happened, and the tremendous response the Singapore government made to identify and root out several active cells of Jemaah Islamiyah in the city. The threat was very real, and the tension was palpable. The headlines were dramatic, but not all the important stories made the news.

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Marshal Fahim’s Death will not Affect Afghanistan’s Political Stability

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Marshal Fahim pictured with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Kabul

Afghanistan’s first Vice President Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim passed away a few days ago, March 9th, 2014 of natural causes. Reports say that he died of a heart attack.

Marshal Fahim pictured with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Kabul

Mr. Fahim was a complex political figure. A native of the Panjshir Valley, he joined the late Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud in the fight against the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s. Having established himself as a fierce fighter, he continued his struggle against the Taliban’s presence in Afghanistan in the 1990s as Commander Masoud’s top deputy. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, and with Commander Masoud having been assassinated by al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001, Fahim emerged as a crucial force in helping the United States remove the Taliban from Afghanistan in 2001.

His sudden death has prompted many Afghan leaders and prominent politicians to believe that with Fahim gone, Afghanistan’s instability will intensify. Those writing about the vice president’s passing are too kind to him. Society often looks very kindly upon the dead, regardless of their actions while they were alive. Fahim was a corrupt politician, lacking scruples and integrity.

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