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Defending Germany, Defending NATO, Defending Definitions

Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council writes in the New Atlanticist about the new NATO, which "is defined by US caveats, French political will, British leadership, German uncertainty, and a tangible level of commitment by some allies."

It's a good article, but I take issue with some of the harsher criticism against Germany, even though I agree that our foreign minister did not handle this issue well. Jorge writes:

Perhaps the most controversial component of the new NATO is Germany. Since World War II, Germany has kept a strong relationship with Paris and Washington, sometimes at the expense of one over the other. But even when exploring better relations with Moscow, Germany has always moved forward with preferably both, but at least one of its main allies. The Libyan crisis has been a painful exception. Berlin now seems to be pursuing a new path, Lostpolitik. How long will Berlin favor unilateral policies or new allies, instead of the allies that helped make Germany whole, prosperous, and free?

Germany's recent actions have had a deep impact on its allies. The US may not say so publicly, but privately, neither Washington nor Paris is certain that Germany can be counted on in times of conflict. At the same time, all across the alliance, voters are becoming more aware that after so many decades of being a consumer of security from NATO, Germany is now reluctant to become a provider of security for its allies. 

Furthermore, Berlin should be ashamed of excuses about coalition politics and electoral distractions. After all, Belgium was able to take its place on the front lines with its allies, even though it has not had a government in over a year.

What new allies? Allies are members of an alliance, which is a big deal. Germany abstained in the Libya vote. Russia, China, India and Brasil happen to have voted the same way, but that does not make these five countries allies. What is indeed shameful, however, is that according to Majid Sattar in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung our foreign minister and his staff made phone calls all night before the UN vote to convince other Security Council members to abstain.

Continue reading "Defending Germany, Defending NATO, Defending Definitions"

2010 is Deadliest Year for Coalition Forces in Afghanistan

2010 is the deadliest year for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports the NYT.
Violence is 69 percent higher for the three months ending Sept. 14 than it was for the same period last year, according to the United Nations special representative’s quarterly report to the Security Council, which was released Tuesday.

The deterioration of security was most evident in the increase in roadside bomb explosions, which rose 82 percent over the same period in 2009.
A graph documenting the steady annual rise of coalition deaths from 2001 to today can be found at iCasualties.org. US forces have suffered 1301 deaths out of the total 2098 among coalition forces since the war began in 2001.

This record in casualties follows another landmark event in Afghanistan last week, nation-wide provincial elections.  Here are some (grim) stats on the election outcome provided by AFP:

* more than 2,500 candidates stood for 249 seats
* over 3,000 official complaints about voting irregularities
* more than 1,000 polling centers were unable to open because security could not be guaranteed
* 22 people were killed by polling day violence, and 294 insurgent attacks occurred
* final results are due October 31st, though may be delayed for months

While these numbers may be discouraging, Tony Karon writes in Time that the elections actually have only a marginal impact on Afghanistan's future:
Most of the region's main players, including President Karzai himself, are operating on the assumption that the only plausible endgame for the war in Afghanistan is some form of political settlement with the Taliban — and reports from the region suggest that the pursuit of such a settlement, with Pakistan acting as broker, has already begun via discreet talks. The bottom line in such a settlement would be for the Taliban to agree to prevent territory under its control from being used to export terrorism, and to accept that it will not be able to restore its theocratic rule over the whole country — some form of power sharing would be inevitable, with the Taliban likely to end up as the dominant political authority in the Pashtun south and east. But despite reports that Taliban leaders are open to a different approach to wielding power and hosting al-Qaeda, achieving a deal would be far from easy. The Taliban's military momentum diminishes its incentive to compromise, and the leaders of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban for years and brought President Karzai to power are fiercely opposed to the restoration of the movement to any position of power. Still, the distribution of power in Afghanistan is clearly going to be determined by the outcome of efforts to broker a political solution among those who wield military force on the ground. And in that respect, Saturday's vote was, unfortunately, a sideshow.

U.S. Generals Indicate No Quick Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Recent statements from top U.S. generals are dashing hopes in the US and among European Allies that the war in Afghanistan will wind down in the next year, despite President Obama's stated intentions to begin troop reductions in July 2011.

Consider comments from the top U.S. Marine in Afghanistan, General James Conway, reported by Daily Times:
In recent months, US officials have played down expectations of any large withdrawal of troops in July 2011. Conway echoed those sentiments, saying he believed Marines would remain in the south for years. He said that Afghan forces would not be ready to take over security from US troops in key southern provinces for at least a few years.

“I honestly think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that turnover will be possible for us,” he said, referring to Marines deployed in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Conway said some Afghan units somewhere might be able to assume the lead for security in 2011 but not in the south.
Further statements by General David Petraeus regarding the Afghanistan drawdown make it clear that the July 2011 date does not signal a hard end of the war, writes GlobalSecurity.org:
Petraeus also repeated his view that the drawdown in U.S. and NATO forces, scheduled to begin in July 2011, will not result in a swift withdrawal.

"July 2011...is the date when a process begins. It is not the date when the U.S. forces begin an exodus and look for the exit and a light to turn out," Petraeus said.
General Petraeus discusses the July 2011 drawdown in a video interview with the BBC, found here.

In the article "Why Europe Fears
Petraeus's Urge to Surge", Financial Times argues that European leaders not only desire a more expedient withdrawal from Afghanistan, but also want to pursue a different strategy for ending the conflict based on negotiations with the Taliban:
In discussions with European generals, diplomats and officials – each involved in their government’s Afghan policy – a common fear emerges. That US president Barack Obama will not be able to refuse demands from Gen Petraeus to extend the surge well beyond July 2011; that the general will continue to push for a continuation of military strategy; and that he will decline any suggestion of opening negotiations with the Taliban – something that many Europeans are very keen on.
...
European officials are coming to the consensus that they would like the Nato summit and Mr Obama’s Afghan policy review – both at the end of the year – to reach a position where negotiating with the Taliban is the political strategy around which military strategy is determined.

Troop withdrawals, which Mr Obama says will start next July, would then take place according to the pace of talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government; not on the basis of hard-to-gauge battlefield success. Europe also wants the US to press Afghanistan’s neighbours not to interfere in its affairs.

Gen Petraeus wants to convince Washington, Nato and Europe to do just the opposite, determining withdrawals on the basis of the military, not the political, situation.

Thousands of Classified Reports on the Afghanistan War Leaked

An extensive series of previously classified reports on the Afghanistan war effort titled the Afghan War Diary (AWD) has been made public by the website WikiLeaks. 

The NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel were leaked the reports several weeks ago.  Each has spent the past month analyzing the reports and writing articles with their key deductions.  According to the New York Times editors' note:
The articles published today are based on thousands of United States military incident and intelligence reports — records of engagements, mishaps, intelligence on enemy activity and other events from the war in Afghanistan — that were made public on Sunday on the Internet. The New York Times, The Guardian newspaper in London, and the German magazine Der Spiegel were given access to the material several weeks ago. These reports are used by desk officers in the Pentagon and troops in the field when they make operational plans and prepare briefings on the situation in the war zone. Most of the reports are routine, even mundane, but many add insights, texture and context to a war that has been waged for nearly nine years.
The NYT, Guardian and Der Spiegel have all vetted the reports and come to the conclusion that the material is authentic. 

You can download the full set of reports from the WikiLeaks website, here.

New York Times coverage is found here.
Guardian coverage here.
Der Spiegel coverage here.

Atlantic Review Used for MA Thesis

An Irish student emailed me that he his going to reference an Atlantic Review blogpost in his MA thesis: Are Americans More Willing to Make Sacrifices Than Europeans?

It was one of my better blogposts, written in 2007, but still up-to-date. I was discussing transatlantic attitudes towards war and sacrifice and concluded that Americans are more optimistic than Europeans and that Americans are moving towards a post-heroic society, in which Europeans already live.

On the one hand, I am honored that this blog post will be referenced in an MA thesis, even though the reason might just be that I was discussing an issue with the prefix "post." Academia loves terms like post-constructivism, post-Cold War era, and now post-heroic. On the other hand, I am not sure, if it is a good sign for academia if blogposts are used as references. Next, someone will use a tweet to argue that the Pope is Catholic.

DOD Releases Afghanistan Report

The US Defense Department delivered a report to Congress this week providing an update on progress in Afghanistan from the period October 2009 to the end of March 2010.  Titled "Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan", the congressionally mandated report is extensive at 152 pages and covers everything from troop numbers in country to the details of ISAF counter-narcotics policy.

I have not read the entire report yet, but here are some highlights from the Executive Summary:

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Violence is up but Afghanis feel more secure

“Polls consistently illustrate that Afghans see security as improved from a year ago. At the same time violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year – an 87% increase from February 2009 to March 2010.”  The report says that while violence has increased, this is largely due to increased ISAF activity.
 
US, partner-country, and Afghani force levels are increasing

US presence:
 “On March 31, 2010 there were approximately 87,000 U.S. forces and approximately 46,500 international forces in Afghanistan… force levels expected to approach 98,000 by August 2010.”

"The President’s strategy is dependent not only on the application of military capability, but also on increased civilian capacity. Since January 2009, the Department of State (DoS) has more than tripled the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan to 992. The increase in civilian personnel is a reflection of the President’s strategy to increase civil military cooperation at all levels of operations."

Continue reading "DOD Releases Afghanistan Report"

CIA Recommendations for Sustaining West European Support for ISAF

WikiLeaks (HT: Marie-Claude) has published what it calls a Special Memorandum by the Central Intelligence Agency's Red Cell. The document argues that after the fall of the Dutch government "counting on apathy might not be enough," because "indifference might turn into active hostility if spring and summer fighting results in an upsurge in military or Afghan civilian casualties." Unfortunately, the recommendations for shoring up popular support are not as exciting as you would expect from a classified and leaked document. Some examples:

* Some German opposition to ISAF might be muted by proof of progress on the ground, warnings about the potential consequences for Germany of a defeat, and reassurances that Germany is a
valued partner in a necessary NATO-led mission.
* Emphasis on the mission's multilateral and humanitarian aspects could help ease Germans' concerns about waging any kind of war while appealing to their desire to support multilateral efforts.
* Appeals by President Obama and Afghan Women might gain traction.

Dutch Goverment Falls over Afghanistan Mandate

It is a rather late stage in the game for the war effort in Afghanistan to claim its first political victim. But yesterday night the Dutch governing coalition broke up over the question of extending its mandate. And that less than a week after narrowly surviving a debate over the (purely symbolic) support for the war in Iraq back in 2003. The political process has its own pace in the Netherlands.

The Guardian has a quote:

"A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan," said the Labour leader, Wouter Bos. "Our partners in the government didn't want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government."
Bos is pretending that the Dutch did their turn and will now have accomplished a virtuous task when they go home. His coalition partners, in turn, are pretending that their plans and conditions were ever intended to have consequences. The political process has its own rationality in the Netherlands.