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Foreign Policy

Archive | Foreign Policy

Australia’s Cluster Bomb Conundrum

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U.S. sailors load tank-buster cluster bombs under the wing of a Harrier jump jet aboard the USS Kearsarge in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Albania 07 May, 1999. Mike NELSON/AFP

Cluster bombs are currently the subject of considerable humanitarian concern internationally because of their indiscriminate effect.

U.S. sailors load tank-buster cluster bombs under the wing of a Harrier jump jet aboard the USS Kearsarge in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Albania 07 May, 1999. Mike NELSON/AFP

Every year, thousands of civilians, many of them children, are killed and maimed by any one of the hundreds of munitions (also known as “bomblets”) released by cluster bombs. Studies show that around 30 percent of all bomblets do not explode on impact, and therefore become de facto landmines. In such instances, bomblets can cause harm decades after the conflict has ended. Surely Australia would seek to ban the use of such weapons? The answer is a bit more complicated than you might expect. The Cluster Munitions Prohibition Bill (2010) seeks to do precisely that. If the legislation were passed, it would sign Australia up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use of the weapons by member states.

With the final decision on the draft legislation having being deferred for some months now, this is not the place for me to again rehearse arguments based on either international humanitarian law, general treaty obligations, or the role of a middle-powers such as Australia in attempting to establish new “norms” of behavior. Rather, I seek here to highlight ways in which certain Australians will be needlessly faced with both implementation and moral dilemmas that will not be so easily resolved as presumed. These dilemmas relate to two significant loopholes identified in the Bill relating to “military interoperability” and “indirect investment.”

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Is NATO Suffering from Mission Creep?

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President Barack Obama, right, thanks NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the opening of the NATO Summit in Chicago

The Libyan intervention has severely tested NATO’s operational capacity and the alliance itself. NATO’s continued involvement in Afghanistan and its subtle involvement in a number of theaters around the globe does beg the question of whether NATO has succumbed to mission creep.

President Barack Obama, right, thanks NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the opening of the NATO Summit in Chicago

The fact that NATO has field operations throughout Africa, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Balkans, implies an international organization that literally defines its role in the world as international. NATO’s strength is that its makeup is homogeneous and its members more or less pursue the same grand strategies and goals. This is not to suggest that its members fall in line behind and support, without reservation, any potential operation. Germany has recently found itself on the defensive. While offering support for the Libyan rebels only after they eventually routed pro-Qaddafi elements in Tripoli, it has since attempted to shore up any rifts with France and Britain.

Guido Westerwelle (FDP), Germany’s Foreign Minister recently suggested, “This decision was correct,” he emphasized in his country’s decision not to lend support to the no-fly zone, “Because we sought political solutions.” Ultimately, Germany’s decision to oppose the mission could be to the benefit of Great Britain, France, Italy, the United States, Turkey and perhaps China who may win lucrative oil and rebuilding contracts from the new Libyan government.

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On Liberation and Libya

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Libyans celebrate in former ‘Green Square’ in Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

Many around the world took a celebratory tone when learning earlier this week that rebels in Libya gained control over Tripoli, the capital of that oil-rich country. Yet, these celebrations miss the point.

Libyans celebrate in former ‘Green Square’ in Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

To be clear, the Libyan people are now in control of their destiny in a way which they never have been; that is worth commending, but the means through which this was achieved are not. Indeed, one need only to look at the facts to see that the conduct of this revolution has been rather less than inspiring. Despite its name, the Arab Spring was actually triggered last winter following protests in Tunisia. The largely nonviolent protest movement in Tunisia resulted in the resignation and exile of an authoritarian president who had actively employed armed force against demonstrators. After some confusion, the leader of the largely symbolic legislature became President. What followed were similar nonviolent actions in other Arab countries, which, to a large extent, have only partially subsided.

The successful revolution in Tunisia was followed by upheavals in Egypt where, once more, armed force was applied against largely nonviolent public demonstrations. There, the military toppled the regime following backpedalling by the Egyptian president regarding his promise to step aside in response to the crisis. Following revolutions in two neighboring counties, demonstrations in Libya turned violent sparking a civil war which, as of this writing, remains ongoing even as a rebel victory now appears all but assured.

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Smoking out Gaddafi

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Rebels gathered in southern Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

For nearly six months, the ailing tyrant had lost whatever remained of his sangfroid and insisted on an outright cleansing of the rebels, which he publically called rats. But if there was any truth to the old saying that goes: he who swims against the stream - knows the strength of it; Muammar Gaddafi seemed surely not to have understood.

Rebels gathered in southern Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

For all his talk of heroism, his masses of support, the love of his people and the thousands of fighters at his ready, the last vestiges of his central authority melted away like a snowman in the desert last night in Tripoli. This is despite unsubstantiated reports about the capture of two of his sons. But even as the die-hard rebels were on the brink, the collapse of 42 years of Gaddafi’ism can not be blessed with a more climaxing end than the image of the tyrant being tunnelled out from one of his vast labyrinth of mysterious underground bunkers and tunnels- some which are believed to stretch into kilometres.

Like every despot in the region, the paranoia of air and electronic surveillance has led to the spending of millions on underground networks to link palaces, bunkers, military strongholds and safe houses to conceal the leader and his near and dear. The value of these vast complexes is never more strategic than when the leader fights his last battle, the battle to survive. As the rebels streamed into the capital, Tripoli, much of which has already fallen, these underground sites represent a new kind of battlefield which must be quickly and ferociously overcome. Colonel Gaddafi is thought to have built so many tunnels that just about anything could be underground – loyalists, heavy weapons, money and surely the crumbling tyrant himself.

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Tripoli Covered with a ‘Fog of War’

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An observation of the fluctuating situation on the ground in Tripoli would indicate that the regime of Muammar Qaddafi appears to have some life.

Gaddafi’s destroyed Bab Al Aziziya compound in Tripoli. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo

Earlier reports indicated that two of Qaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam and Mohammed, had been captured by the rebels. An appearance by Saif at the Rixos Hotel, in pro-Qaddafi controlled Tripoli, upended a story which has dominated the cable news channels and newspapers for much of the past couple of days. Additionally, the Libyan ambassador to the United States told CNN that Qaddafi had escaped his rebel custodians. It was not at all clear whether the rebels were content with letting him escape or if they are currently trying to recapture him.

During an interview with international reporters at the Rixos Hotel, Saif contends that his supposed capture was a ruse to fool the rebels and NATO. Further, he insists that pro-Qaddafi forces have broken the backs of the rebels and have essentially lured the rebels into the capital into what is essentially a trap in order to decimate them. Many Western journalists are currently holed up at the Rixos Hotel, in government-controlled Tripoli, where Saif made his brief but newsworthy appearance. Additionally, in an interview with FOX News, Saif contends that his father is alive and well and the tide of the conflict has shifted in his family’s favor. “Yes, he (Muammar) is in Tripoli, he is alive and well and we are winning,” Saif said. “The rebels have been lured into a trap and we will crush them.”

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U.S. and Pakistan Seek to Reinforce an Arbitrary Border

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“American and allied forces in Afghanistan are strengthening a layered defense along the border with Pakistan to seize Haqqani network militants as they try to make their way to Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks, according to senior military officers.” – New York Times

U.S. soldiers working with the Afghan Border Police control the flow of traffic along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Wesh, Afghanistan

Okay, New York Times, time for a little geography lesson, with a few bits of history thrown in. Let’s start with that old Rand McNally three-dimensional map of the world that formerly graced the walls of grammar schools across the country (I happen to have one in my closet). It has low spots to demonstrate deep-sea trenches and bumps for mountain ranges. Among the biggest set of bumps are the Hindu Kush (the western extension of the Himalayas) that corresponds to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The highest of those bumps is Mt. Noshaq (24,580 ft).

This is also a very long border, 1,510 miles more or less (more on that later). Think of the distance between Portland, ME and Miami, FL, New York City and Dallas/Fort Worth, or London and Moscow. It is mostly really big bumps (except some lower ones on the western edge of the border), so it is not only long, it contains some of the most formidable terrain on the planet. In fact the “official” border is marked from Sikaram Peak to Laman Peak. It is always a bad idea to fight a war where you measure the battlefield by the distance between peaks. If there are general rules of war, certainly one of them is: “Do not fight in places that the Rand McNally three-dimensional map puts lots of bumps.”

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H.G. Wells and Defending the “Restoration Doctrine”

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Pete Souza/White House
Pete Souza/White House

Pete Souza/White House

Michael Singh’s parochial critique in Foreign Policy Magazine entitled “Restoration’ is Not an Option: Why America Can’t Afford to Lead From Behind,” attacks Richard N. Haass’s idea of a “Restoration Doctrine,” which in essence is “a U.S. foreign policy based on restoring this country’s strength and replenishing its resources—economic, human and physical.”

Singh’s reproach is reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s response to an H.G. Wells’ article penned in 1923, in which he argues for an end of the British Empire and a system of world federal government. A staunch defender of the political status quo, Churchill dismissively replied to the suggestion. “We see him (Wells) airily discarding, or melting down, all those props and guard rails on which the population of this crowded and precariously conditioned island have been accustomed to rely…We can almost hear him smacking his lips at every symptom or upheaval in India or in Africa.” In a sense, this is also Singh’s main point of critique. He attributes a certain naiveté, fit for an unrealistic dreamer – not a policy expert – to Haass’s “Restoration Doctrine.”

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Can the Pentagon Make Do with Less?

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Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee on Capitol Hill

“Rebuilding our economy and creating jobs will remain our nation’s top priority. But it is essential that we begin to address the issue of excessive military spending in order to ensure prosperity in the future.” – Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX)

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee on Capitol Hill

The United States spends more on its military than the defense budgets of Russia, China and Europe. During and after the Cold War, the U.S. military established military bases around the globe at significant financial costs. While some of this presence is strategic, like the military bases in South Korea and Japan, some argue that a continued military presence in Europe does not make tactical or strategic sense given Europe’s ability to pay for its own defense. “Immediately after World War II,” write Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Ron Paul (R-TX), “America took on the responsibility of protecting virtually every country that asked for it. Sixty-five years later, we continue to play that role long after there is any justification for it, and currently American military spending makes up approximately 44% of all such expenditures worldwide.”

In 2010, U.S. military expenditures were $698 billion, China 532 billion Yuan ($78 billion) and Russia 1782 billion rubles ($58.7 billion). Alarming U.S. strategists are the increased Chinese and Russian military expenditures. However, the significance is that both states have spent more dollars recently primarily due to military upgrades and to improve their competitiveness vis-à-vis the United States. According to the Kremlin, over the next couple of years, Russian military spending will increase. “Defense spending in 2010 was 2.6% [of GDP], in 2011 the volume of funding will be 2.9%, in 2012 3% and then 3.2%,” said Anton Siluanov, Russia’s Deputy Finance Minister, to the Russian parliament. “World military expenditure in 2010 reached $1630 billion, representing 2.6 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) or $236 for each person. Spending was 1.3 per cent higher in real terms than in 2009 and 50 per cent higher than in 2001.

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France Steps up Pressure on Qaddafi

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As NATO members express increasing dissatisfaction with the progress of military actions against Qaddafi, France has acknowledged that they are directly arming the Libyan rebels.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: Michael Wuertenberg

France’s Colonel Thierry Burkhard told Al Jazeera that France had dropped machine guns, assault rifles and RPG’s along with other items in the Nafusa Mountains in Western Libya. This development illuminates the stark contrast among NATO member states, some of whom are reconsidering their commitment to the mission against Qaddafi. Other nations, however, have decided that in order to facilitate Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s downfall, a more robust effort is necessary. “We began by dropping humanitarian aid: food, water and medical supplies,” Col. Thierry Burkhard was quoted by AFP news agency.

As the Libyan mission drags on into its fourth month, NATO member states have thus far been reluctant to become fully engaged with the rebels. This is partly due to the realities on the ground. NATO cannot be seen as playing a direct hand in Qaddafi’s downfall despite the fact that NATO warplanes have pounded Libyan ground assets for months. Rather, the mission must be seen as an attempt to protect civilians as authorized by the UN authorized no-fly zone. However, this lack of engagement has not gone unnoticed by the rebels on the ground. Frequently, when the rebels have been surrounded and have faced certain defeat only then have NATO warplanes intervened. Within NATO this development has generated raised eyebrows. Hans Hillen, the Dutch defense minister warned of “mission creep.”

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Robert Gates Offers a Blunt Assessment

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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is scheduled to retire at the end of the month and on the heels of his retirement he has not been shy about continued engagements in Libya and Afghanistan and warning against the dangers of gutting the Pentagon budget.

Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates responds to a senator’s question as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing

“I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” Gates told Newsweek. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.” Gates continued, “To tell you the truth, that’s one of the many reasons it’s time for me to retire, because frankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government…that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

Despite initially opposing U.S. involvement in Libya during closed-door meetings with the president, Gates has pushed back at critics who claim that U.S. involvement is illegal. In addressing critics on Capitol Hill who have suggested that President Obama is in violation of the War Powers Act, Gates argues that U.S. engagement is limited in scope as to not have violated the letter and intent of the law. “I believe that President Obama has complied with the law consistent in a manner with virtually all of his predecessors,” Gates said while appearing on Fox News. “I don’t think he’s breaking any new ground here.”

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NATO Mission in Libya Extended Another Ninety Days

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NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

The NATO bombing campaign continued following a failed bid by South African President Jacob Zuma to broker a peace deal on behalf of the African Union.

NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Both sides, NATO and Muammar el-Qaddafi, are recalcitrant in their positions and therein lies the dilemma for Western nations and the increasingly isolated Libyan leader. According to Zuma, Qaddafi was prepared to accept the African Union sponsored ceasefire but would not step down as demanded by the rebels. “He is ready to implement the road map,” said President Zuma. In Benghazi, Fathi Baja, the foreign minister for the Transitional National Council said of Qaddafi’s position, “We refuse completely. We don’t consider it a political initiative, it is only some stuff that Gaddafi wants to announce to stay in power.” Further underscoring the resolve of Qaddafi to remain in power, following his meeting with Zuma, Qaddafi’s chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, offered a blunt response to NATO and the rebels based in Benghazi, “We say: ‘Who are you to say the Libyan cannot choose Muammar Qaddafi?…We will never give in.”

Qaddafi’s hardening resolve to remain in power and increasing isolation is the result of over three months of the increasingly effective NATO bombing campaign which has denigrated Qaddafi’s military. At the same time, rebels have begun to coordinate their campaign against government forces. Additionally, Qaddafi has seen a number of his key government officials resign or leave Libya. The Libyan ambassador to the European Union, Al Hadi Hadeiba, defected along with his staff. Libya’s oil minister and former Prime Minister, Shokri Ghanem, defected and in March, Moussa Koussa, Qaddafi’s foreign minister fled to the U.K.

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NATO’s Unending Mission in Libya

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As Libyan rebels make incremental advances NATO is recognizing that achieving success in Libya will require increased involvement.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testify at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on operations in Libya

A concerted assault against Qaddafi’s forces by the rebel forces, supported by coalition warplanes, is the only available option in order to remove the regime from power. NATO is in an awkward position because UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 do not instruct NATO and others to pursue regime change. However, in order to avoid a protracted stalemate, Qaddafi either must step down or be forcibly removed. Despite some setbacks, the rebels have made concrete gains in Benghazi, the Tunisian/Libyan border town of Dhiba, Ajdabiya and Tobruk. However, in Misrata, due to a lack of coalition air cover, there has been heavy shelling by Qaddafi’s forces that has resulted in the deaths of Restrepo director Tim Hetherington and Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer Chris Hondros.

Under pressure from European allies, Obama has authorized the use of Predator drones against Qaddafi’s forces. This increased U.S. involvement places the United States in a striking capacity against government forces. Until recently, the U.S. chose to remain in a support capacity after handing off control of the Libyan no-fly zone to NATO. However, after Qaddafi’s forces readjusted their tactics to avoid air strikes by coalition warplanes, the U.S. military command recommended the deployment of armed unmanned drones.

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Focused Approach to Somali Piracy

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Piracy off the eastern coast of Africa has become a profitable business for many Somalis whose average yearly income used to rarely exceed a few hundred USD.

U.S. Coast Guard dispose of bags of illegal narcotics from a Somali pirates boat they boarded

By some estimates, in 2010 pirates were able to generate roughly $238 million in revenue typically through ransoms paid by private citizens, corporations or by states. The pace of piracy has risen exponentially since 2005 when there were 35 attacks compared to 219 in 2010. Piracy affords high risks but is a very profitable source of income for many Somalis who are unlikely to better their standard of living through conventional means. The 1991 fall of Siad Barre’s regime has been followed by two decades of civil war leaving Somalia a “failed state” as clan warfare consumed Mogadishu and surrounding areas. The international community largely chose to ignore Somalia. The country is essentially divided into Somaliland, Puntland and Central Somalia. The internationally supported Transnational Federal Government controls only a small area in the capital, Mogadishu.

At the end of 2010, it is estimated that 1,181 people were being held hostage off the coast of Somalia. Despite some incidents when hostages were killed during rescue attempts or through abuse and neglect, several hundred have been released once their employers paid large ransoms. Currently, there are approximately 760 hostages still being held typically on their ships moored off the Somalia coast. The mode of operation for many pirates is not particularly complicated. They operate from small skiffs that approach ships in the Gulf of Aden. These skiffs are launched from larger pirate vessels known as mother-ships. Once the pirates commandeer a vessel they often sail the vessel closer to shore.

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Damascus finds support in Tehran

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Amid the unrest in Damascus it has come to light that Tehran has been funneling weapons and other support to President Bashar Al-Assad’s government to insure that a revolution will not overthrow the government.

Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arriving for an official dinner in Damascus. Source: SANA

Tehran’s motives appear to be driven by the desire that its regional partnership with Damascus remains in place. Tehran has been offering assistance in tracking down the leaders of the protest movement in Syria and they have also shipped the government crowd control gear such as tear gas and riot gear. “We believe that there is credible information that Iran is assisting Syria,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner in reference to evidence of tertiary and direct support from Tehran to Damascus.

Tehran is uniquely qualified to assist Syria in putting down dissent. Iranian unrest following the widely panned 2009 presidential election and recent unrest following the turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya demonstrates the abilities of the Iranian government to squelch dissent. Iran has been successful in cutting off Internet access to Facebook and Twitter which were especially useful to the protest organizers in Egypt. Further, Tehran worked quickly to arrest opposition leaders following the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

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Europe Rising, French and British Engagement in Africa

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In the past, Europeans and Americans have viewed the efficacy of hard power versus soft power in starkly different terms.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace in Paris April 13, 2011

British and French military intervention in Libya and French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire demonstrates that Europe is willing to reconsider the use of military power to achieve stated objectives. Western European views about the use of hard power are evolving. Rather than participating in the Libyan no-fly zone, Germany withdrew tertiary support and instead offered to increase its presence in Afghanistan. It was announced that several hundred German personnel are to be transitioned to Afghanistan to offset the NATO efforts in Libya. “This will alleviate NATO and it’s also a political signal of solidarity in the alliance with respect to the mission in Libya,”

Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s defense minister argued in defending Germany’s decision. “It must be possible in an alliance that you can have differing opinions on individual questions or that you don’t take part in certain activities…You can’t take part a little bit, either you take part or not at all.” Germany, along with Russia and China abstained on the UN Security Council authorizing the no-fly zone. Outside of Europe’s limited spheres of influence, instances of European abstention in military interventions outnumber examples of European participation in military operations. Compared to continental Europe, the British have been more willing to consider the use of hard power as a realistic option to deal with threats. Through Tony Blair’s decade in power he developed very clear lines of distinction when hard power should be used and under what circumstances.

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