How Indian Shuttle Diplomacy Helped Keep Cruise Missiles Out of the Netherlands

by Nick Ottens

Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands speaks in the Houtrusthallen in The Hague, October 27, 1985 (ANP)

Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands speaks in the Houtrusthallen in The Hague, October 27, 1985 (ANP)

October 29, 1983 saw the largest demonstrations the Netherlands had ever seen. More than half a million people took to the streets of The Hague to protest against the conservative government’s decision to place American cruise missiles on Dutch soil in response to the Soviet Union’s deployment of SS-20 intermediate-range missiles in Eastern Europe. The protests divided Dutch society and culminated two years later in a petition that was signed by 3.7 million people. Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers accepted the signatures on October 26 that year in the Houtrusthallen in The Hague.

There, Lubbers defended his government’s decision in front of thousands of opponents of his policy, some of whom literally turned their backs on the prime minister. He did so knowing the missiles would most likely never be placed. India’s prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, would confirm that to him.

The Gandhi Connection
Lubbers spoke about the episode in an interview I conducted with him for Elsevier magazine, the Netherlands’ leading conservative weekly, many years later. Asked if it wasn’t upsetting to confront such strong public opposition to his policy when he already knew it probably wouldn’t have to be carried out, the later United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shrugged and said, “That’s all right. It didn’t really bother me because I had faith it would end well.”

The christian democrat leader had met Rajiv Gandhi a day earlier when he made a brief stopover in The Hague on a trip back home from Washington DC. Lubbers had been close with Rajiv’s mother, Indira, who was assassinated in 1984. Indira had told her son he should meet Lubbers if he ever had the chance. Rajiv took the advice to heart. Lubbers welcomed him in the Dutch prime minister’s residence just outside The Hague that evening.

During their conversations, Gandhi was interrupted by a phone call. When he returned, he apologized to Lubbers. It seemed the Russians had found out he was in The Hague and asked him, if he could make a stopover in The Hague, surely he could drop by in Moscow the next day as well? Gandhi, already jet-lagged, wasn’t looking forward to the Moscow trip. But Lubbers spotted an opportunity.

The cruise-missile debate had polarized Dutch society. The right-wing Telegraaf newspaper accused the peace movement of playing right into the Soviets’ hands by dividing NATO. Left-wingers, including the opposition Labor Party, feared an escalation of the Cold War as a result of American president Ronald Reagan’s tough anticommunist rhetoric. Lubbers’ own christian democrats were split down the middle: the nuclear demonstrations were led by the Church.

Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands addresses parliament in The Hague, November 22 1982

Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands addresses parliament in The Hague, November 22 1982 (Anefo/Rob Bogaerts)

To keep the peace, Lubbers, well-versed in the Dutch art of consensus-building, had stalled. The Netherlands supported NATO’s Double-Track Decision to place middle-range cruise missiles in Western Europe to balance against the SS-20s while leaving the door open to removing the missiles again if the Soviets took away theirs. When time came to commit to hosting the American missiles, Lubbers’ government again bought time to wait to see if the Soviets wouldn’t stop their build-up of SS-20s after all.

Lubbers felt strengthened in his delaying tactics by Reagan himself who had assured him during a meeting in early 1983 that he was far from eager to escalate the arms race. But as long as the Soviets wouldn’t withdraw the SS-20s, the West couldn’t signal surrender. “Let them sweat first,” Reagan told Lubbers.

So Lubbers did. The missiles wouldn’t be placed in the Netherlands until late 1985. The prime minister was hopeful that the new spirit of détente in American-Soviet relations, brought about by the appointment of a new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that spring, would make the whole thing go away.

Shuttle Diplomacy
On October 26, 1985, time was running out. Lubbers was heaving breakfast with Gandhi in The Hague, hours before he was due to address the angry crowd in the Houtrusthallen and days before the Netherlands were supposed to start stationing the cruise missiles. He wondered if the Indian leader couldn’t gauge Gorbachev’s intentions. “India always had good relations with Russia,” Lubbers recalled. Gandhi agreed. He would phone Lubbers once he was back in India and report back. “And that’s how it happened.”

Prime Ministers Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands and Rajiv Gandhi of India meet at Amsterdam Airport, October 21, 1987

Prime Ministers Ruud Lubbers of the Netherlands and Rajiv Gandhi of India meet at Amsterdam Airport, October 21, 1987 (ANP)

When Gandhi called, the message was encouraging. Gorbachev wanted Lubbers to know he was sincere about the arms-limitation talks with the Americans and said he expected to do a deal with Reagan by the following year. He advised Lubbers to “get in the back of the line” and do what he did best — stall.

In the end, it took a little more than a year before Gorbachev and Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in Washington DC. But Lubbers knew that day he confronted opponents of his policy in the Houtrusthallen that the superpowers were making progress. He also knew, thanks to Gandhi’s impromptu shuttle diplomacy, that there probably would never be a need for the Netherlands to host the nuclear-armed missiles that millions of its citizens didn’t want.

Family Friend
By the time the INF Treaty was signed, Lubbers had already won reelection and visited Gandhi in India. What he remembered most was a kitchen-table talk he had with Rajiv, his Italian-born wife, Sonia, and their two children, Rahul and Priyanka. It was a “difficult conversation,” Lubbers said, because Gandhi openly talked about the fears he had for the safety of his family. He told Lubbers: “You must realize that I, like my mother, will be killed.” Two years later, he was — by a Sri Lankan terrorist.

Sonia took over the leadership of the Congress Party. Lubbers won his last election that year and formed a government with his old Labor Party rivals. He stood down in 1994 after twelve years in office, having served longer than any previous Dutch prime minister. Before retiring from public life, he served as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for four years. It was in Geneva that the phone rang and another Gandhi was on the line: Rahul, asking for a meeting. His mother had told him he should see Lubbers again if he ever had the chance.

Posted in English, History, India, Nick Ottens, Security Policy | Leave a comment

The Return of the Middle Kingdom

by Major Chad M. Pillai. Major Chad M. Pillai is an Army Strategist in the U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC). He recently served as a Special Assistant to the Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the 38th Army Chief of Staff. Major Chad Pillai received his Masters in International Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2009.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan pose for a group photo with participants of the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting and their spouses ahead of a welcome banquet in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 10, 2014.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan pose for a group photo with participants of the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting and their spouses ahead of a welcome banquet in Beijing, capital of China, Nov. 10, 2014.

The recent Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting cemented China’s place as a Global Power. Recent critical agreements the Chinese made with both the U.S. and Russia demonstrates its geo-strategic position between the two former Cold War adversaries. Additionally, significant announcements by the Chinese government ranging from plans to invest heavily in a “New Silk Road” to seeking to solidify itself as a space power on par with the Russians and the U.S. adds to its growing prestige. China’s achieved its quest to undo the century of humiliation as the world witnessed the return of the Middle Kingdom atop the international system. 2014 will go down in Chinese history as the year this ancient civilization regained its prominence among the nations of the world and put it on a path to become the world’s leading economic and military power; however, internal and external challenges remain that may obstruct that path.

The Prize of Former Cold War Superpowers
The Ukraine Crisis is escalating geo-strategic tensions between the U.S., NATO and Russia. In response, the U.S. and its Western Allies have imposed strict economic sanctions against Russia, especially its financial sector. This has created two consequences: severely impacting the Russian economy and the value of its currency, and pushed Russia towards China as a means to offset its economic relationship with the West. While China has not publically stated its support or condemnation of Russia’s actions, it recent $400 Billion Natural Gas Deal provides Russia an outlet to offset its economic downturn as a result of Western sanctions. This deal is significant because it provides further evidence that Russia is leveraging the Chinese to break the US Dollar’s strangled hold on the international energy sector, and thereby, weakening the impact of U.S. led sanctions.

While Russia is competing with the U.S. for influence with China, China remains wary of Russia and therefore has also made significant deals with the U.S. During APEC, the Chinese made key agreements with the U.S. on climate change, tariffs; and rules and procedures governing air and maritime encounters between U.S. and Chinese Forces. Of these agreements, the governing air and maritime disputes elevates China in the minds of U.S. policymakers to the same degree the Soviets enjoyed during the Cold War. For China, this recognizes its growing military capability in the Asia-Pacific region and it that the U.S. and its Asian Allies such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia must take seriously. Finally, APEC allowed China to set the scene for its strategic initiatives to counter the U.S.’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance, which the Chinese view with suspicion, by promoting economic and diplomatic efforts of its own in the region.

The Asia-Pacific Dream
China’s answer to the U.S. Asia-Pacific Rebalance is the announcement of its Asia-Pacific Dream that would better connect Asia to markets in Europe by investing heavily in land and maritime infrastructure throughout the region. While China has benefited from the U.S. led international economic system, China seeks to transition to a model more akin to its historical roots where China, and to some degree India, was the epicenter of the global economy. As the U.S. remains pre-occupied with the instability in the Middle East, China, through its Renminbi Diplomacy, is rapidly shifting the loyalties of many Eurasian nations who would be beneficiaries of China’s investment strategy, and eventually squeeze the U.S. out. While the U.S. can provide military protection in the near-term, its own fiscal challenges will allow China to outcompete the U.S. for influence in the long-term. Despite its growing clout in the international arena, China has significant challenges it must overcome internally and external challenges from other regional powers to include the “swing vote” in the region, India.

Adjusted for purchasing power, China's economy is now the world's largest.

Adjusted for purchasing power, China’s economy is now the world’s largest.

Getting Old before Getting Richer
In October 2014, according to the IMF, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in the purchasing power parity index. However, the U.S. remains the world’s absolute largest economy by GDP and therefore establishes a tie between the two nations as the world’s largest economies.

Despite this impressive achievement, there are warning signs that China’s economy is entering a period of less rapid growth. Recent data from China forecast slower growth in its industrial sector, a key component in the government’s efforts to raise the standard of living for its people. Without sustained growth, China faces potential political unrest as its unemployment rises and causing a down-turn on the standard of living for its people. This will place greater stress on its social-welfare system as the implications of its “One-Child Policy” create an unstainable model where fewer workers support a larger aging population. This along with further environmental degradation from industrial pollution means China will get Older and Sicker before its gets Richer. This will either lead to positive internal reform or a more dangerous and nationalist China attempting to avert collapse.

India as Swing Vote
Historically, India and China are two vast ancient civilizations that served as the political, economic, and cultural foundations of the Asia-Pacific region. These two nations, through cross-cultural trade and interaction, shaped the regions from Central Asia to South East Asia. This ranged from religious influence, Buddhism, to cuisine such as Thai food, a blend of Chinese and Indian flavors mixed with indigenous ingredients. Despite these interactions and influences, China’s and India’s direct entanglements with each other have been limited as a result of the geographical separation from the Himalayan Mountains. And for most of that early history, China, a unified nation, engaged with a fragmented India. Today, China confronts a unified India whose population will exceed China’s population by 2028.

While India, the world’s largest democracy, lacks China’s central planning discipline, it possesses a talented population competing in information technology, engineering, and industry. And while its middle class is smaller than China’s, it has one major competitive advantage – a greater mastery of the English Language. With the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is doing away with its traditional Non-Alignment Strategy and engaging more with its neighbors and becoming the world’s largest importer of weaponry. This has implications for China as India continues to modernize its armed forces, including its nuclear arsenal, as they attempt to peacefully resolve their border disputes.

The PAK-FA test program has been aggressive, and meant to bring the aircraft to maturity by 2016. Three prototypes are currently flying with the flight tests – two are used for flight testing at Zhukovsky, a third prototype has recently been delivered to the Russian Air Force 929th Chkalov State Flight Test Centre in Akhtubinsk for testing. A fourth FAK-FA prototype was damaged by fire after a demonstration flight arranged for an Indian delegation. The pilot was unharmed and the fire was extinguished quickly, but the aircraft itself was damaged (see photo above).

The PAK-FA test program has been aggressive, and meant to bring the aircraft to maturity by 2016. Three prototypes are currently flying with the flight tests – two are used for flight testing at Zhukovsky, a third prototype has recently been delivered to the Russian Air Force 929th Chkalov State Flight Test Centre in Akhtubinsk for testing. A fourth FAK-FA prototype was damaged by fire after a demonstration flight arranged for an Indian delegation. The pilot was unharmed and the fire was extinguished quickly, but the aircraft itself was damaged (see photo above).

The role of India in the international arena will also change the balance of power as both Russia and the U.S. increasingly seek India as a counter-balance to China’s rise. India’s and Russia’s relationship date to the Cold War and continue today as Russia serves as one of India’s major weapons supplier to include co-development of the Sukhoi PAK-FA stealth fighter. This may provide India the means to compete militarily with China’s emerging 5th generation stealth fighters. At the same time, the U.S. has increased its military-military engagement with India and seeks to become a major supplier of weapons to the Indian Armed Forces. Not only is the U.S. traditional sale of military hardware with India, but also seeks opportunities for joint ventures in the future. Of course, China is also increasing its dialogue with India as a means to incorporate it into its future plans for the region and mitigate creating a future regional peer adversary.

A Multipolar World
The APEC meeting introduced the world to the return of Great Power Politics, where the unipolar world of the post-Cold War has come to an end. The economic shift between the U.S. and China along with the competition between Russia and the U.S. for China’s influence has returned China to its historic position as the Middle Kingdom. Its strategy to invest heavily in the Asia-Pacific region will further cement its central position both regionally and internationally. However, challenges remain both internally and externally. Without necessary reforms, China risks becoming older and sicker before its gets richer, this may create a more dangerous China. However, a Rising India, along with Russian and U.S. engagement with India may temper China’s ambitions and create a future “Gang of Four” – Multipolar World – a balance of power envisioned by President Richard Nixon to maintain global peace.

Posted in Chad M. Pillai, China, English, Russia, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Vice News – Bahrain: An Inconvenient Uprising

Bahrain 2014: The protests are not over. Tens of thousands mourners marched during the funeral procession for Asma Hussain on February 12, 2014. She died of a heart attack when several masked police stormed her home.

Bahrain 2014: The protests are not over. Tens of thousands mourners marched during the funeral procession for Asma Hussain on February 12, 2014. She died of a heart attack when several masked police stormed her home.

After 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a public building in the Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid on 17 December, 2010, protests broke out in Tunisia. Subsequently, a wave of protests broke out across almost all of the Arab states that people came to dub optimistically the “Arab Spring“. These protests had a socio-economic background, with the main factors being the high rate of unemployment and the lack of investment resulting in poor prospects for young people, despite their relatively high levels of education. For the vast majority of protesters, initially, their movement therefore had less to do with demands for democracy or secularisation.

About four years later, we have come to realise that the “Arab Spring” was followed by a much grimmer “Arab Winter”. The most successful developments took place in Tunisia, which promulgated a balanced constitution earlier this year and organised parliamentary elections at the end of October. However, even Tunisia is a long way from becoming an established, stable democracy. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood failed to seize the opportunities when it was elected to power. After a short period in office for popularly-elected president Mohamed Morsi, the subsequent rise to power of Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi has de facto meant that hardly anything has changed in Egypt. Considering the rather turbulent period under Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood and the uprising of radical Muslims on the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt’s neighbours as well as the European states and the US are not completely unhappy about the final regime change. Yemen, Libya and Syria are all still torn apart by civil wars with various levels of intensity.

The President [Barack Obama] told President Morsy that the United States is committed to the democratic process in Egypt and does not support any single party or group. He stressed that democracy is about more than elections; it is also about ensuring that the voices of all Egyptians are heard and represented by their government, including the many Egyptians demonstrating throughout the country. — Office of the Press Secretary, “Readout of the President’s Call with President Morsy of Egypt“, The White House, 02.06.2013.

Bahrain represents a special case: the protests here are still on-going but have failed to achieve any concrete results, partly because they did not receive any support from Western countries, compared to that shown especially in Libya and also occasionally in Egypt. In addition, media has barely reported any information about the protests in Bahrain, although this can also be attributed to the difficult working conditions for media in the country. According to the “Freedom of the Press 2014″ index published by Freedom House, Bahrain was ranked tenth from the bottom, just ahead of Syria. Any reports that are critical of Islam or of the royal family as well as any calls for regime change are punishable by up to 5 years in prison (see Freedom House, “Bahrain“, Freedom of the Press 2014, 2014). Western governments are unwilling to support the protests in Bahrain largely due to their desire to maintain good relations with the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and its supportive neighbour Saudi Arabia. In March 2011, Saudi troops assisted Bahraini security forces in a crackdown against opposition protests. By the way, a Mowag Piranha armoured vehicle made in Switzerland delivered to Saudi Arabia along with 29 other Piranhas at some point before 1991 was also used in the crackdown (Source: “Schweizer Panzer kam gegen Opposition in Bahrain zum Einsatz”, Tagesanzeiger, March 27, 2011). Brett Davis penned a rather noteworthy article in the middle of October describing the influence of Saudi Arabia and Iran on events in Bahrain for Since Bahrain is also the home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, the United States are interested in maintaining stability in Bahrain to ensure maritime security in the Gulf region.

But what is the current situation on the streets of Bahrain? Once again, a short documentary by Vice News provides an insight into the developments that have been taking place in Bahrain since 2011:

Posted in Bahrain, English, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Sea Control 61 – Land Based Anti-Ship Missiles

In October, LTC (US Army) Jan K. Gleiman and Harry White wrote a very interesting article about land based anti-ship missiles. In this article, they argue that the growing capability of China’s land-based anti-ship missile systems is forcing the United States and Australia to rethink their Pacific strategy. That impact in mind, the question came up, if the US and Australia should develop that kind of weapon, too. According to Gleiman and White, “[t]he three strongest arguments for land-based systems can be categorised as lower escalation risk, strategic flexibility, and mitigation of platform vulnerability”.

In episode 61 of Sea Control Natalie Sambhi interviews both authors. They discuss the raised question in the article, the impact on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and whether Australian strategic culture is ready for this capability. Lastly, having been a visiting fellow embedded in ASPI for two months, LTC Gleiman shares his first impressions of the Australian strategic culture and the differences between the ability for the Australian military to participate in public commentary when compared to their American counterparts.

Glossary for landlubbers

  • Sea Denial: the ability to deny or prevent an adversary from operating in an area of the sea (possible with land based systems).
  • Sea Control: the ability to operate freely in a maritime area while preventing adversaries from doing the same (requires sea denial capabilities, but not possible with land based systems alone).
HY-1 launch vehicle in the Beijing Military Museum.

HY-1 launch vehicle in the Beijing Military Museum.

More information

Listen to episode #61 immediately

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CIMSECThe Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in 2012 to bring together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain. Check out the NextWar blog to join the discussion. CIMSEC encourages a diversity of views and is currently accepting membership applications here.

Posted in Australia, China, English, International, Sea Control, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Russian-Chinese Naval Exercises in the Mediterranean?

by Felix F. Seidler. Felix is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany and runs the site Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik“. This article was published there at first.

In spring 2015, we may witness a naval exercise of Russia and China in the Mediterranean. It is yet a statement. However, if the exercise takes place, it will send relevant messages to Europe and the US. The global naval balance of power is shifting to China’s and Russia’s advance. Time for Europe to do something.

China's Harbin guided missile destroyer takes part in the weeklong China-Russia 'Joint Sea-2014' naval exercise in the East China Sea in May.

China’s Harbin guided missile destroyer takes part in the weeklong China-Russia ‘Joint Sea-2014′ naval exercise in the East China Sea in May.

Do not expect a large exercise
“‘We plan to conduct a regular joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean next spring,’ said Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, according to the Russian TASS news agency. […] Shoigu did not specify the nature of the exercises but Russia and China completed a bilateral exercise in May.” (Source: Sam LaGrone, “Russia and China to Hold 2015 Naval Exercises in Mediterranean, Pacific“, USNI News, 20.11.2014).

Russian announcements have already to be taken with care, even though it came not out of nothing, but rather after meeting in Beijing. However, there have been plenty statements from Moscow, e.g. about naval presences in the South China Sea and the Caribbean or the construction of indigenous aircraft carriers, that never turned into reality. Moreover, there has not yet been an accompanying statement from Beijing.

It may be just a Russian hoax, nevertheless there is a realistic prospect in it. In spring 2015, China could do what has done with all its counter-piracy task forces. Once the mission in the Gulf of Aden is done and the new task force has arrived, the relieved task force will go for another duty before returning home. Hence, what we may see, is that 2-3 Chinese warships, one supply vessel and probably one submarine will transit Suez to meet with a Russian task force in Mediterranean.

The Russian task force will not consist out of more than 3-4 surface warships, few suppliers and 1-2 submarines. Do not expect a larger exercise. The Chinese are likely to insist on some kind of parity, because the world’s second largest power does not want be humiliated by looking like Russia’s junior partner.

Concerning the theater, the exercise will take place in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia and China have both been calling ports in Cyprus. Moreover, going to the Western Mediterranean will be too much for the Chinese and unnecessarily provoke the Europeans (although Beijing would probably not care). Russia’s interests, as already deployments since 2011 have shown, are also mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean. After a couple of days, the exercise will be over and the Chinese will make their way to further port calls or immediately start their long way home.

Russia's naval deployment to Australia during the the G20 Summit.

Russia’s naval deployment to Australia during the the G20 Summit.

The exercises’ messages
The Sino-Russian exercise would add another point on the list of Russia’s increasing military assertiveness: Bomber and fighter flights in the Baltic, Black Sea, Caribbean, Pacific and North Atlantic, the show of force in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the recent deployment to the South Pacific for the G20 Summit.

Moreover, the exercise will be a success of Russian lobbying in Beijing. My guess is that, due to the remaining tensions with the West, the initiative to join forces in the Mediterranean came from Moscow. Why should China ask for an exercise in the Mediterranean that it does not really need? Instead, with an eye on the continued Sino-Russian exercises in the Pacific, both countries will get what they are looking for. The PLAN gets its practical training it needs in Asia and more experience in expeditionary deployments, while the Russian get the demonstration of political will in the Mediterranean they are looking for.

That Russia brings another rising power, hostile to Western values, to the Mediterranean is a message to Europe. Again, Moscow aims to stress that is back as a great power and that Europe is simply incapable of doing anything about it. Though Beijing intends to send a political message by a Mediterranean naval deployment, it will be about global reach and dedicated to Washington. There is no need for Beijing to send any naval messages to the Europeans, who are strategically irrelevant to China.

Russia and China are rising naval powers
Should the Sino-Russian exercise in the Mediterranean ever take place, it will be a remarkable illustration about global naval power shifts. While Europe has given up an effective presence East of Suez, except the counter-piracy task forces and an UK SSN driving circles, Russia and Chinas start to step up combined on the global stage. That does not mean that Sino-Russian task forces will ever go to places to fight Falklands-Style Wars. However, it shows us, who has global ambitions and political will and who has not.

There is no further need to comment on Europe’s military decline. However, it is worth noting that China has left the rank of a Medium Regional Force Projection Navy, but has not yet arrived on the rank of Medium Global Force Projection (for the ranks see Eric Grove, “The Future of Sea Power“, Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press, 1990, p. 236-240). Instead, the PLAN is somewhere in between. The PLAN could be called a major regional, minor global force projection Navy. The same applies for Russia, although, except the sea-based nuclear force, China has already surpassed Russia in terms of naval power. China is building indigenous aircraft carriers, while Russia has to go shopping for helicopter carriers in France.

Perspectively, the key word in the Russian statement is “regular”. Given there would be annual Sino-Russian exercises in the Mediterranean, it would be the ultimate naval humiliation for Europe. It would be an annual statement about Europe having effectively declined to a regional power being subject by global demonstrations of political will by others. However, we are far away from that. While Russia will remain interested in engaging the Chinese in the Mediterranean, Beijing could easily conclude one day that they have learned enough lessons about expeditionary deployments and simply do not need the Russians anymore.

RFA Wave Knight, HS Aegean, HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean and RFA Lyme Bay at the Cougar 14 exercise.

RFA Wave Knight, HS Aegean, HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean and RFA Lyme Bay at the Cougar 14 exercise.

How Europe should react
First of all, the exercise would be a Christmas gift in spring to NATO’s intelligence services. The US and Europeans should spy on the exercises with SIGINT, surveillance aircraft and submarines. Especially for the Europeans, it is a unique opportunity to learn about China’s and Russia’s capabilities, because they are incapable of gaining this information in the Pacific.

In addition, Europe should neither condemn nor ignore the exercise. As long as Russia and China exercise in international waters, there is nothing wrong with that. Instead, Europe should wish the Russians a safe trip home and ask to Chinese to come in for a friendly port visit. Greatness is better than grumbling, having a chat with the Chinese is better than by harsh press releases pushing them into Russia’s arms.

Moreover, Europeans should re-consider their absence from relevant global naval deployments. The political purpose therefore would be to make clear that Europe has still global interests that go beyond trade. Julian Lindley-French has rightly observed Europe’s retreat from power and the failure of Brussels’ wishful thinking. Hence, the geopolitically right reaction for Europe would be to show that Europe still has to offer more than words and that hard power has not been abandoned.

Therefore, the Royal Navy’s Cougar Deployment 2015 could be joined by other European navies. It makes no sense for the Europeans to show their flags at the Spratlys or Senkakus, due to the lack of a political purpose. However, a trip to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea – disaster relief in this region is a very realistic operational scenario for European navies – and Australia may be sufficient to demonstrate the remaining global reach. The way back via French Polynesia and Panama would make the global message clear – really doing this is not that much about capabilities, but rather about political will. The admirals will find solutions for all obstacles, when their political lords and masters tell them that they have to.

Posted in China, English, Felix F. Seidler, International, Russia, Sea Powers | Leave a comment

Pirates, pirogues and politicians: The politics of fishing in Africa

von Peter Dörrie (Homepage / Twitter).

Greenpeace activists paint 'Stolen Fish' on the hull of the illegal cargo vessel Binar 4 before occupying it to prevent the unloading of fish stolen from Guinean waters.

Greenpeace activists paint ‘Stolen Fish’ on the hull of the illegal cargo vessel Binar 4 before occupying it to prevent the unloading of fish stolen from Guinean waters.

The story of maritime fishing in Africa is often told as a simple one. On the one side are the continent’s countless artisanal fishermen and women who have plied the seas for hundreds of years in their dug-out canoes and pirogues. Today, they suffer because of the other side. Greedy fishing fleets from the European Union and Asia taking advantage of exploitative political agreements. Pirate fishermen, abusing many countries’ lack of control over their territorial waters. And greedy local elites that close both eyes, as long as they can line their own pockets.

To be sure, all these characters exist and the problems in Africa’s fisheries are real. But, as almost always, the reality is more complex than this simple tale of good and bad. Fishing is more than a simple economic activity. It is a complex social, commercial and political arena where competing interests clash. Here, the obvious solution not always turns out to be the right one.

Gaoussou Gueye represents one of these interests. He is the president of both the African Confederation of Professional Organizations for Artisanal Fishery and APRAPAM, an organization for the empowerment of local fishermen in his native town Mbour in Senegal. Gueye is busy man nowadays, representing his constituency on panels and conferences from Senegal’s capital Dakar to far away India. But although “this is now a long time ago,” he still remembers working the nets himself.

In Senegal alone 21,000 pirogues leave their ports every day to fish the country’s rich coastal waters, says Gueye. They land 80 percent of Senegal’s total catch, a valuable contribution to food security along the coastline, where most of Senegal’s 14 million people live. Up to a quarter of all jobs in Senegal and other west African countries are linked to fisheries.

But artisanal fishing is under threat, not only in Senegal but across Africa, Gueye says. “Our biggest problem is the lack of fish.” Landings have declined over recent years, casting doubt over the security of jobs and food for Senegal’s coastal communities.

The fears of Senegal’s artisanal fishermen are backed up by scientific findings. The 2013 World Ocean Review found that in the Eastern Central Atlantic, 53 percent of fish stocks are overexploited. A further 43 percent are fully exploited, meaning that they are fished at a rate that barely allows them to regenerate, while only four percent are non-fully exploited (“2 – The Future of Fish – The Fisheries of the Future“, World Ocean Review, 2013, p. 49). The situation is less severe along some other parts of the African coastline. But especially where rich fishing grounds and strong local fishing economies exist, overfishing is dramatic.

Near-coastal ocean regions have been divided into 64 Large Maritime Ecosystems (LME) that cross geopolitical borders. This concept is expected to improve co-operation of countries with regard to international marine conservation. The indi- vidual LMEs are coloured to indicate the intensity of fishing from 2000 to 2004. In many marine regions the fishing pressure has not dropped since then.

Near-coastal ocean regions have been divided into 64 Large Maritime Ecosystems (LME) that cross geopolitical borders. This concept is expected to improve co-operation of countries with regard to international marine conservation. The indi- vidual LMEs are coloured to indicate the intensity of fishing from 2000 to 2004. In many marine regions the fishing pressure has not dropped since then.

Responsible for the overexploitation of marine resources, most experts agree, are not the artisanal fishermen. Instead, European, Chinese, Russian and fleets from a dozen other nations push fishing in Africa beyond sustainable limits. But blaming international corporations doesn’t do the situation justice. For one, African governments and elites want fishing companies to fish their waters. “To be frank, they want the money,” says Isabella Lövin, Member of the European Parliament. She represents the Swedish green party in Brussels and is Vice-Chair of the parliament’s Committee on Fisheries.

Leasing their fishing rights is an important source of income for many African governments. This is true especially for the agreements with the European Union. Most agreements, not only with the EU, are a bad deal for Africa, contributing less to local value added than domestic fishing. African economies could grow by US$400 per year, if they would reserve their fish for their domestic fleets. That is one finding of the FAO’s 2014 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report. But fishery agreements provide quick and direct funds to governments. And these are needed for infrastructure development, education and healthcare.

“That is the dilemma for us who want sustainable fisheries and who want fair relations with developing countries,” says Lövin. Since the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, the EU parliament has to approve new fishery agreements. That gives it considerable influence. “Why don’t we just say ‘stop all these agreements’? Well, if we do that, these ships won’t go away. They would fish under private agreements and there would be no transparency, no control from the EU, no possibility to politically influence the host countries to set up better control mechanisms and coast guards and scientific research. These measures are now coupled with the fishery agreements.”

EU agreements always include a clause that obligates host countries to apply the same conditions to all foreign fleets. This makes them a powerful tool to set and increase standards. The EU can demand these clauses, because it is able and willing to pay handsomely to guarantee access for its fishing fleets. The current agreement between Mauritania and the EU is worth €70 million per year. It is taxpayer money that is spent to secure jobs in oversized fishing fleets and guarantees steady imports.

But demands for sustainability, financial profit and political influence are not always compatible. In the case of fishing, the tension between them can have unintended consequences, says Gerard van Balsfoort. Like Gaoussou Gueye, van Balsfoort represents the interests of fishermen, but this is where the similarities between the two men end. Van Balsfoort is the president of the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association (PFA). It represents some of the EU’s biggest fishing companies. The PFA member’s ships are floating factories, which process and freeze their catch of species like herring and mackerel on board. That enables them to stay at sea for weeks and months at a time.

Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia (Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh).

Somali pirate Hassan stands near a Taiwanese fishing vessel that washed up on shore after the pirates were paid a ransom and released the crew, in the once-bustling pirate den of Hobyo, Somalia (Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh).

In some years, PFA vessels caught the majority of pelagic fish in Mauritanian waters, Senegal’s northern neighbour. PFA should be one of the main beneficiary of EU fishery agreements, but the current one with Mauritania, says van Balsfoort, “is useless.”

The PFA’s history in Mauritania is fascinating. In the 1990s, fishing activities off Mauritania collapsed. This had geopolitical reasons: Mauritania used to sell the access rights to their pelagic stocks to the Soviet fishing fleet. But these companies experienced a dramatic decline after the fall of the Soviet Union. A NGO approached the PFA, says van Balsfoort, with the request to take up fishing in Mauritania. The organization struck its first, private agreement with the Mauritanian government in 1995.

According to van Balsfoort, this worked well for all parties. The PFA even invested in vessels designed to exclusively fish in Mauritanian waters and building up scientific capacity in Mauritania. “Not for altruistic reasons,” says van Balsfoort, “but if you make big investments, you need to know what you are doing.”

Later, the private agreement got incorporated in an EU agreement with Mauritania. And then, in 2004, the EU expanded eastwards, with Baltic countries like Lithuania and Poland joining. These countries have considerable pelagic fishing fleets. By entering into the EU, these fleets were automatically included in the existing agreement with Mauritania. At the same time, Russia rebuilt its own fleet, parts of which returned to Mauritanian waters. “There were times when 50 to 60 pelagic trawlers were active in Mauritania, of which perhaps 18 were EU vessels,” says van Balsfoort, which led to severe overfishing. “The Mauritanians saw the money coming in and sold their fish two or three times over. They sold to everybody who asked for a licence and the people who were in charge apparently didn’t care too much if stocks could carry that.”

Then, in 2012, the EU and Mauritania negotiated a new protocol, making drastic changes to the conditions. Without success, it tried to balance competing priorities, from environmental protection to financial profits. The outcome was a complete disaster. Fees for EU boats quadrupled, says van Balsfoort, while the vessels now had to stay further out than 20 miles from the coast, compared to 13 miles in the earlier agreements. “The technical and financial conditions under which we had to operate from August 2012 were so harsh that we didn’t go,” says van Balsfoort. “There was no use to go there, because we would loose money.” And because the agreement stipulated that the Mauritanian government had to apply the same rules to everybody, non-EU fleets left as well.

The PFA returned to Mauritania after more than one year. Its members feared that if they weren’t landing at least some fish, they would be left out of the EU’s quota allocation.

While they were gone, Mauritanian companies started to exploit the now recovering stocks of sardinellas. But these were no artisanal fishermen either. Instead, Chinese, Moroccan and Mauritanian businessmen set up fish meal factories. Prices for the product used as animal and shrimp feed have skyrocketed since 2005 in the wake of increased demand from China.

Despite these companies often being Mauritanian on paper, they are a far worse deal for Africa than PFA’s fishing, says van Balsfoort. According to him, they contribute little to economic development or food security. The PFA companies sell all their catch to African countries, where pelagic fish features much stronger than on European menus. “In Nigeria they ask us, why don’t you sell us any sardinella any more,” claims van Balsfoort. “And we say we can’t catch them, they are taken for fish meal in Mauritania.”

Gaoussou Gueye, van Balsfoort’s colleague from Senegal, has a similar bad opinion of what he calls “mixed” companies. “In my eyes, they are more dangerous than illegal fishing,” he says. He thinks that their purpose is to circumvent laws that try to regulate the behaviour of foreign fishing companies.

These Chinese boats were captured by the South Korean coast guard for alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in November 2011 (Photo: Dong-Ailbo).

These Chinese boats were captured by the South Korean coast guard for alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in November 2011 (Photo: Dong-Ailbo).

Of course illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a huge problem as well. As much as 40 percent of the total catch in western Africa is landing in the nets of pirate fishermen. This puts tremendous pressure on fish stocks. But IUU fishing is only part of the problem. Some governments award confidential fishing licences to foreign vessels, raising the spectre of corruption. This has long raised the ire of environmental NGOs and advocacy organizations. “What you see is these deals that are being cut between international vessels and small elites in many African countries to the cost of artisanal fishermen and women,” says Caroline Kende-Robb. She is the Executive Director of the Africa Progress Panel (APP) an organization devoted to the economic development and good governance in Africa.

In its newest report, the APP has focused on the exploitation of African fish stocks. According to Kende-Robb the business features many of the same structures as mining, a sector infamous for corruption and mismanagement. “It is to the advantage of the elite few who are in power,” she says, “and the local fishermen are voiceless and powerless.”

Stronger international conventions and regulations would be one of the best ways to solve this problem, says Kende-Robb. After all, fish are the quintessential international resource, not bound to arbitrary sea borders. At the moment, though, “you got this fragmented pitcher of lots of different players,” she says. “Bilateral agreements, some regional agreements, international voluntary rules the EU regulations. But the result is a coordinated catastrophe.”

“A really critical agreement,” according to Kende-Robb, would be the Agreement on Port State Measures. Negotiated in 2009 under the leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ensures that pirate fishing vessels can’t unload their catch in signatory states. But only 10 FAO member countries and organizations have ratified the treaty so far. The agreements needs at least 25 participating states to come into force. “What surprises me is that people are not moving faster,” in the face of the increasing overexploitation of the ocean, says Kende-Robb. “People should already be extremely alarmed.”

But there is reason for hope that at least in some countries, the politics of fishing have taken on a positive dynamic. A case in point is Senegal. “Today, the fishermen are heard,” says Gaoussou Gueye. “They are strong. Members of parliament are starting to take notice.”

The 2012 election was instrumental in this development. It brought the opposition candidate Macky Sall to power and with him a new minister for fisheries, Haïdar el-Ali. The government has invested in its capacity to police the fishing grounds. It handed out fines against IUU fishing vessels — US$ 800,000 against a Russian repeat offender in one case.

Gueye thinks that the dialogue between the government and artisanal fishermen in Senegal is working well for the most part. But in the long run, there will be hard choices to make, he says. “We will have to reduce our fishing activities,” to avoid a collapse of the stocks. This would of course have far ranging consequences. The EU cut quotas after stocks plummeted due to overfishing. Many small-scale fishing companies didn’t survive. In the end, large corporations like the PFA made it through the hard years, while local fishermen left the business.

In countries like Senegal, governments will soon have to choose and none of the choices are appealing. Continuing to fish at current levels won’t be an option. But pushing the artisanal fishing community out of business would produce unemployment and threaten food security. Not to mention that local interest groups could turn out to be formidable political enemies. The alternative is to deny foreign vessels fishing licences, cutting off much needed revenue. And, at least in the case of the European Union, it may even strain diplomatic relationships beyond the fishery sector.

Posted in English, Peter Dörrie, Piracy, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Ghost in the (War) Machine

by Robert S. Kim and Stephanie Chenault. Robert S. Kim is one of the partners at the Loew & Kim lawyer’s office. From 2009-2010, he served with the U.S. mission in Iraq as the Deputy Treasury Attaché, responsible for Treasury Department counter terrorist finance and financial intelligence initiatives in Iraq. Stephanie Chenault is the Chief Operating Officer of Venio Inc. and a Strategy Consultant for the Department of Defense. She was assigned to both Multinational Corps – Iraq and Multinational Forces – Iraq in the Operations Directorate from 2003–2005. This article originally appeared on The Bridge, run by Nathan K. Finney (Hompage / Twitter).

A special feeling: united in a community in struggle.

A special feeling: united in a community in struggle.

There exists within the study of philosophy something René Descartes identified as “mind-body dualism” where the body is consigned to physical space and the mind — with all of its complexities and imponderables — to the incorporeal, to the intangible. The “ghost in the machine” is British philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of this dichotomy.

This dualism, both physical and non-physical, can be logically extended to war and warring masses. William James’ “The Moral Equivalent of War” (originally titled “The Psychology of the War Spirit”) delivered in 1910 hints at the existence of a ghost that drives the war machine. James, a pacifist, recognized that war brings with it undeniable positive psychological effects on a culture including cohesion, unity, commonality. This is the mind (or ghost) of war. It exists in the non-physical. It is not only concerned with concrete goals such as gaining territory or protecting the security of one’s homeland; it derives satisfaction from the act of going to war itself, from the feeling of being united in a community in struggle.

In this sense the machines of war, the tangible aspects like the economies, the technologies and the warrior’s bodies serve the collective spirit. Breaking the back of the machine — alone — does not a war end or victory deliver. The spirit must be quashed or war ever rages on.

Total War
In the decades after William James wrote “The Moral Equivalent of War” in 1910, the world learned somber lessons about the dark side of that psychological attachment to war. The first half of the 20th Century demonstrated that militarism and the will to wage total war – regardless of the consequences, regardless of any conventional morality, and regardless of any rational calculation of costs and benefits, correlations of forces, or international politics – can take hold in a group of people in a way inconceivable to the rest of the world. Intelligent and well informed people failed to understand the nature of the threat and its malevolence until it had achieved its first successes and devastated the first victims of its conquests. Nazi Germany was one, emerging from the ashes of the First World War to rebuild German military power and lead the German people into waging war and committing genocide that no one in Europe could have imagined in 1914 or even in 1939. Imperial Japan was another, dragging the people of Japan into a war of conquest in Asia whose brutality is remembered bitterly in China and Korea 70 years later. Each had a concept of the unity created by war, which it viewed as a fundamental virtue – in Nazi Germany, Volksgemeinschaft (“people’s community”); in Imperial Japan, bushido (“the way of the warrior”).

Appeasement: Neville Chamberlain holding the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich.

Appeasement: Neville Chamberlain holding the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich.

The weak spirit of war within the Western powers left them unable to meet the initial challenge of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the 1930s. The experience of the First World War had broken their will to go to war, making the avoidance of war an almost universally accepted goal. It not only discouraged them from going to war, but also made it difficult for them to conceive that for their opponents, war was not something to be avoided or a necessary evil, but was rather what they sought and an exalted calling. This mindset propelled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan from one conquest to the next, until stopped by force, and made them bizarre, suicidal death cults in defeat.

The Islamic State presents complications similar to those of the world wars from 1914 to 1945, with the possibility of becoming the center of a Thirty Years War of the modern world. It emerged resurgent in Syria and in Sunni-inhabited regions of Iraq, from the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq that had been shattered during the U.S. war in Iraq from 2003–2011, not unlike Nazi Germany rebuilding the military machine of defeated Imperial Germany. Like Nazi Germany, it faces western powers weary from the previous war, who after witnessing the early advance of an enemy that has lost none of its will to fight, are finally trying to assemble their response to the threat.

To be sure, there are significant differences – the spirit of war is driven by a twisted vision of Islam as the underlying ideology, not ultra-racist nationalism; the Islamic State is a trans-national, sub-state actor and not a conventional state; and the resources available to the Islamic State are people on the fringes of society and loot, not the population and economy of a major world power. The underlying problem is similar, though: how to defeat a movement with a millennial ideology that is likely to have the will to fight regardless of any rational idea of the odds against it, appears to have the resources to wage a prolonged war, and treats its enemies with no concern for conventional morality, even that of the Islamic faith that it claims to be fighting for.

Shifting Focus from the Machine
Ending the threat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan required the complete destruction of both as states and societies: defeating their armies and navies on the battlefields and on the oceans; destroying their cities from the air; invading their homelands and imposing unconditional surrender; and purging their political systems and societies of militarists and militarism. It was done so thoroughly and successfully during and after the Second World War that both countries are now known for their pacifism and unwillingness to wage war.

The Islamic State and the conditions that gave rise to it, not being contained within borders or in any one particular society, will require a fundamentally different approach. The Islamic State has exploited weak states and civil wars in Iraq and Syria to establish a territory for itself, but its appeal and recruitment extend into friendly states in the Middle East and North Africa and into Europe and the United States as well. Eliminating it, or at least reducing it to a level where it is no more than a minor problem that states in the Middle East and North Africa can handle internally, will require a far subtler approach than waging a world war 75 years ago. U.S. leadership and military power will be important factors, but fighting the Islamic State fundamentally relies on governments, religious authorities and societies in the Middle East and North Africa addressing the problems that have allowed the Islamic State to emerge.

Making the task especially difficult is that the Islamic State has successfully exploited societies devastated by war and sectarian divides that will continue for many years to come. Syria, after several years of civil war between a largely Sunni rebellion and a Shia-led regime, was the first country where the Islamic State took hold. Iraq, once a state with a strong urban and secular culture and an emerging economy, experienced its own thirty years war from the Saddam Hussein regime’s invasion of Iran in 1980 to the end of the U.S. war in Iraq in 2011, which left it impoverished and deeply divided between the majority Shia and minority Sunni communities. Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa may be vulnerable to the emergence of groups adopting the Islamic State banner. Even Europe and North America have experienced disaffected individuals on the fringes of society, from Muslim immigrant communities but also from the non-Muslim native population, inspired by Islamic State propaganda, traveling to the Middle East to join the Islamic State or conducting terrorist attacks in their home countries.

The war in Syria and the Islamic State especially are magnets to disaffected individuals on the fringes of society.

The war in Syria and the Islamic State especially are magnets to disaffected individuals on the fringes of society.

Ghost Warfare
The response to the challenge will be partly military, but it must be political and ideological as well, and those essential elements can come only from the Muslim world. Governments, Sunni and Shia religious authorities, and civil society in Iraq and other countries must work to resolve the sectarian divide and the political problems that have allowed the Islamic State to appear to offer an alternative to many Sunnis in Iraq and Syria.

What the United States and other western powers can provide are military support to the front-line combatants – Iraq and the moderate Syrian opposition – that will enable them to defeat the Islamic State on the battlefield, and leadership of a coalition of Middle Eastern states that will work on the difficult task of working through seemingly intractable political and sectarian problems, in the common interest of preventing a larger conflagration in the region. It will be a long-term task, requiring a degree of patience that the American political process is not known for possessing, and far more complicated than a “war on terror“. It will demand the work of diplomats as much as – or more than – it requires the use of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. It will be a different type of war for a different type of enemy, with the Second World War, the Cold War, and even the wars of the previous decade offering few useful examples from which to draw.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” In 1862, Abraham Lincoln spoke these words to Congress just before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the terms of the American Civil War and the course of American history. In 2014, similarly inspiring and memorable words have not come from the top, but the war is equally new and difficult in nature, and it demands equally new thinking.

Posted in History, International, Leadership, Robert S. Kim, Stephanie Chenault | Leave a comment

Cartoon of the month: Peacekeeper of the 21st Century


At the end of last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced an ambitious effort to identify and develop weapons systems to enable continued U.S. Military dominance in the 21st century. The new Defense Innovation Initiative — led by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work — would include an effort to develop and field new systems using technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and advanced manufacturing, including 3-D printing. That should produce systems that would offset its rivals’ advantages, as atomic weapons did in the 1950s and precision strike and stealth have done today (Source: David Alexander and Andrea Shalal, “Hagel announces push to boost U.S. military’s technological edge“, Reuters, 15.11.2014).

As we see it with the use of Drones, advanced technologies can keep soldiers out of harms way, but probably cost the lives of numerous civilians. So, new technologies may be useful in waging war, but are they also useful to create a secure and peaceful world?

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The cartoon was drawn by Gianlorenzo Ingrami, architect, and Cecilia Alessandrini, teacher. They teamed up in 2009 to make cartoons, which they publish in national magazines and newspapers in Italy. Their satire comes from anger at injustice in the world and they attempt to understand the world better throughout cartoons.

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Update on 26.11.2014
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Conflict Management in the Central African Republic: A Need for New Approaches

by Patrick Truffer. Patrick Truffer graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with a Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and completes a Master of Arts program in International Relations at the Freien Universität Berlin.

A young anti-Balaka combattant stands guard in a street of the Cattin district of Bangui, on January 18, 2014 (Photo: Eric Feferberg).

A young anti-Balaka combattant stands guard in a street of the Cattin district of Bangui, on January 18, 2014 (Photo: Eric Feferberg).

Since the middle of September 2014, MINUSCA, with the support of the transitional government, has been responsible for stability in the Central African Republic (CAR). This is the eighth international mission since 1997. Critics complain that despite repeated failures, conflict management strategies have not been modified. Since MINUSCA also ignores the root causes of the conflict and adheres to already existing conflict management strategies, it is unlikely to lead a sustainable stabilisation (cf.: Thierry Vircoulon and Charlotte Arnaud, “Central African Republic: the flawed international response“, openSecurity, 19.05.2014; Benedict Moran, “Hanging by a Thread“, Foreign Policy, 22.09.2014).

This case study raises the question of the role, the potential and the pitfalls posed by conflict management strategies for conflict prevention, long-term stabilization and reconciliation. The current conflict in the CAR is discussed in the first section, while the second section examines the conflict management approaches used by the international community. Conflict management considerations and constraints are then discussed in the third section, followed by proposed alternative approaches in the fourth section. The paper closes with a conclusion that goes beyond this specific case and answers the question raised.

Understanding the recent conflict

In 2003, François Bozizé seized power in the CAR in a coup and was “confirmed” by elections held in 2005 and 2011, ruling until his overthrow in March 2013 (regarding the democratic legitimacy of the elections, see: Louisa Lombard, “Election Report: Central African Republic“, The Monkey Cage, 25.01.2011). Important government offices were occupied by members of the Bozizé clan (for example the Ministry of Mines; cf.: US Embassy Bangui, “Leader Of A Failed State: How Bozize Maintains Power“, 14.02.2009). By monopolising public finances and revenues from the diamond and gold sector, Bozizé had installed a kleptocracy, which led to the economic collapse of the state (US Embassy Bangui, “The Weakest Link“, 16.06.2009). Civil-war like unrest then led to the CAR being considered a failed state (cf.: Polity IV, “Authority Trends, 1960-2013: Central African Republic“, 2014).

Because of the Bangui government’s minimal ability to enforce its will, CAR politics has become characterised by the existence of armed rebel groups mostly seeking the same identical goals: a share in the political and economic power (cf.: Alexis Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic“, Congressional Research Service, R43377, 27.01.2014, p. 3). The three main rebel groups signed several cease-fire agreements between 2007 and 2012 under the condition of being given political participation (Human Right Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead“, September 2013, p. 31f). Nevertheless, little changed and the 2011 elections did not increase the opportunity to share in political power. Resistance against the central government grew, in particular in the economically and structurally neglected north-east. The rebel groups acting under separate command were however unable to raise the necessary strength for a coup (cf.: US Embassy Bangui, “New CAR Coalition Government – Nothing New, And Not A Coalition“, 23.01.2009). Finally, in September 2012, two of the three main rebel groups came together to form Séléka. As they moved quickly south towards Bangui, Séléka plundered and laid waste to villages. After the overthrow of Bozizé in March 2013, the leader of Séléka, Michel Djotodia, took control of the government as the first Muslim leader of the CAR.

Séléka rebels in northern Central African Republic (Photo: hdptcar).

Séléka rebels in northern Central African Republic (Photo: hdptcar).

Instead of instituting reforms, however, Djotodia continued his predecessor’s kleptocracy. After a successful coup and Djotodia’s attempt to end the ongoing violence by dissolving Séléka, the rebels looted private property, government institutions and the offices of International Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (cf.: International Crisis Group, “The Central African Crisis: From Predation to Stabilisation“, Africa Report, no. 219, 17.06.2014). In response to the violence and looting, the anti-Balaka formed as a form of civil defence. Under international pressure, Djotodia abandon his function and paved the way for an interim government, led by Catherine Samba-Panza since 20 January 2014. Before accepting the office, she had no links to rebel groups and had not belonged to Djotodia’s government.

The conflict in the CAR was not an ethnic conflict at first; its main cause was a failure to distribute political and economic power. Until Séléka’s push from the northeast towards Bangui, the country’s Christians, animists – with close ties to the Christian community – and Muslims had lived together peacefully (“Ban returns to airwaves in Central African Republic to call for end to fighting“, UN News Centre, 17.04.2014; Religious composition: 50% Christian, 35% natural religions and 15% Muslims). The origin of the Séléka rebels from the country’s northeast and neighbouring Chad and Sudan meant that the overwhelming majority were Muslim, partly being Arabic-speakers. The violent passage towards Bangui through predominantly Christian regions and the subsequent takeover of the presidency by a Muslim led to a polarization of society and a deep mistrust among the Christian respectively animist and Muslim communities (cf.: “Central African Republic: Religious tinderbox“, BBC, 04.11.2013; Human Right Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead”; Moran, “Hanging by a Thread”). The anti-Balaka has been formed by young Christians and animists with less education from rural areas whose families had been killed and villages burnt down. They see the Séléka as foreign and demand its disarmament and expulsion. Important motivation factors are revenge and personal enrichment. The anti-Balaka’s use of violence, especially against Muslims, and the extent of their looting is comparable to that of Séléka (Cf.: Thierry Vircoulon and Thibaud Lesueur, “Central African Republic: The Third Government in Thirteen Months Gets Under Way“, International Crisis Group, 21.01.2014).

Mapping of the conflict in the CAR (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image). Grey: not critical for the current conflict; Yellow: goals and motivation; Orange: possible spoilers; Red: main source and dynamics of the conflict.

Mapping of the conflict in the CAR (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image). Grey: not critical for the current conflict; Yellow: goals and motivation; Orange: possible spoilers; Red: main source and dynamics of the conflict.


Conflict management approaches

Attempts to make use of conflict management approaches in the CAR have been unsuccessful since 1997. These included the Disarmamant, Demobilisation, Reintegration and Repatriation process (DDRR), an arms embargo and the 2011 elections. MINUSCA also relies heavily on these same approaches (cf.: Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”). The lacking distribution of political and economic power remains ignored as the main cause of conflict.

The DDRR process is supposed to reintegrate the rebels into the social fabric to ensure they will not take up arms again in the long-term (Lars Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads: The Limits of Rights-Based DDR“, Human Rights Quarterly 35, no. 3, August 2013, p. 704). There are doctrinal reasons for the high esteem accorded the DDRR process. According to the UN, demobilization is “the single most important factor determining the success of peace operations” (“A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change“, United Nations, 02.12.2004, Paragraph 227f). But there is no empirical evidence for this thesis (Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads”, p. 714). The DDRR process between 2007-2012 failed because of financial malfeasance by the Bozizé government and the lack of financing for the reintegration phase. With increasing frequency the lists of alleged rebels or rebel leaders were bloated numerically to bag a greater financial compensation for participating in the process. In addition, the DDRR process can only be sustainable if it is possible to make a living legally with-out resorting to violence (cf.: Waldorf, “Getting the Gunpowder Out of Their Heads”, p. 704). The catastrophic economic situation meant that these conditions were not and still are not present. Therefore without tackling the economic situation, DDRR as part of MINUSCA is predestined to fail.

[…] the last Central African DDR […] saw an original list of under 1,300 ‘rebels’ [, which] swell to over 7,000. […] the DDR process is largely irrelevant to solving the CAR’s political crisis. — US Embassy Bangui, “Rebels Of Opportunity: DDR Unlikely To Solve The Ills Of The Car“, 26.06.2009. See also: Mark Knight and Alpaslan Özerdem, “Guns, Camps and Cash: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reinsertion of Former Combatants in Transitions from War to Peace“, Journal of Peace Research 41, no. 4, 2004, p. 505.

Arms embargos
A sustainable DDRR process ensures that after successful reintegration former rebels will no longer take up arms despite their availability. The flaw in past DDRR processes was their lack of sustainability and not the continued availability of weapons. Nevertheless, the international missions tried to reduce the availability of weapons with an embargo. Not only are the routes by which these weapons enter the country unknown, but an embargo can hardly be enforced due to the lack of controls, widespread corruption and unqualified personnel (Cf.: Jefferson Morley, “UN Bans Arms to Central African Republic“, The Arms Control Association, January 2014). Nevertheless, it is once again part of the MINUSCA mission (United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)“, S/RES2149, 10.04.2014, p. 11, Art. 31e).

UN Resolution 2149 urges the transitional government to hold “free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections” by February 2015 (United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)”, p. 3, 6, 9f). This reflects the widespread humanitarian approach of “elections before institutions” (Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”; cf.: Terrence Lyons, “Postconflict Elections: War Termination, Democratization, and Demilitarizing Politics“, Institute for Conflict Analysis an Resolution, Working Paper No. 20, February 2002). In addition, France insisted on early elections, perhaps to have an exit strategy to withdraw its troops (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 7). However, the lack of opportunities for political participation represents only some of the cause of conflict. This divisive conflict has also been exacerbated by the disastrous economic situation. Elections alone are thus unlikely to stabilise the situation. On the contrary, the election campaign period could further fuel the conflict among the stakeholders. Ensuring the security of the elections will thus take up a correspondingly high share of MINUSCA resources (Emily Mellgard, “The Central African Republic: Where Elections Could Do More Harm Than Good“, Council on Foreign Relations, 14.02.2014; Louisa Lombard, “Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR“, African Arguments, 24.01.2014). The provision of the necessary foundations for elections, such as electoral laws and registers, will also pose a burden on the transitional government’s resources. Infrastructure in the CAR is insufficiently developed, additionally complicating the implementation of nationwide elections. This is particularly true during the rainy season from February (Vircoulon and Arnaud, “Central African Republic”).

"I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Séléka - they should not have fear. I don't want to hear any more talk of murders and killings. Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion." --- Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic after her election (Photo: Siegfried Modola).

“I call on my children, especially the anti-balaka, to put down their arms and stop all the fighting. The same goes for the ex-Séléka – they should not have fear. I don’t want to hear any more talk of murders and killings. Starting today, I am the president of all Central Africans, without exclusion.” — Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of the Central African Republic after her election (Photo: Siegfried Modola).


Considerations and constraints

Considerations on the economic situation and possible spoilers
Lacking distribution of political and economic power represents the main cause of the conflict, which has then been aggravated by the economic collapse. Stabilization is viable only by improving the economic situation. Young fighters from rural areas and from the northeast must be offered a realistic perspective for the future. To quickly and noticeably improve the economic situation, economic reconstruction must occur as soon as possible, be decentralized and adapted to regional needs. The prioritisation of projects in agriculture, the trades and infrastructure will ensure employment for this young generation and improve the welfare of the population over the medium-term (International Crisis Group, “The Central African Crisis”). Measures which create additional jobs, such as reconstituting the Forces Armées Centrafricaines (FACA) and the police, must be a priority.

After the collapse of agriculture in the wake of the violence, the diamond and gold sector remains the economic mainstay of the CAR. To finance a long-term economic recovery, this sector needs to be completely reorganised and monitored. The oversight body should include representatives from the government, operators (to avoid spoilers) and all parties in the conflict. Royalties should flow into the state treasury, with a defined proportion reserved for regional administration and projects.

The ceasefire agreement between 2007 and 2012 demonstrated that the rebels are willing to negotiate if promised a share in political and economic power. Whether spoilers, possibly individual rebels or rebel groups as well as stakeholders in the diamond and gold sector, appear will be largely dependent on the success of economic reconstruction and the rebels’ opportunities to participate. These could be kept under control through the holistic “reward-persuade-coerce triangle”. A credible political and economic participation should be made clear to potential spoilers (Persuade). The political involvement in the transitional government and regional projects for the reconstruction of the economy, particularly in the northeast of the country, could curb possible spoilers among the rebels (Reward). Should they still come forth, a robust mandate of the MINUSCA would block them (Coerce).

Considerations on the DDRR and arms embargo
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DDRR’s objective is “to contribute to security and stability by facilitating reintegration and providing the enabling environment for rehabilitation and recovery to begin” (UNDP, “Practice Note: Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-combatants“, 2005, p. 11). It is primarily a confidence-building measure, because DDRR is not tasked with reducing the general availability of weapons. A successful reintegration is essential in the long-term, which will depend on reintegrated rebels being able to earn a living legally without violence (Knight and Özerdem, “Guns, Camps and Cash”, p. 503). If successful, the former rebels will not resort to weapons because they will have been reintegrated into civilian life, and not because there are no weapons available.

DDRR is not a stand-alone process, contrary to how it has been executed in the CAR since 2007. It is part of economic, political and social reforms. In addition, the DDRR process must be coordinated with other conflict management approaches, such as the Security Sector Reform (integration options), elections (creating new conflicts) and with the overall reconstruction programme (job availability). Creating jobs is essential so that former rebels do not get an advantage over other job seekers. This means that for DDRR to succeed, economic conditions must be improved as a whole (UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 11, 18, 39, 58). Accordingly, the effort and expense of an arms embargo should be critically scrutinised.

Constraints on the transitional government
The transitional government has an integrative character with 135 representatives from various political, civil and religious interest groups, also including anti-Balaka and Séléka members (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 8). However, meetings are rare and it can barely enforce its decisions beyond Bangui (Moran, “Hanging by a Thread”). This is not unusual because the government has not been able to assert its will on a nationwide level since the beginning of the colonial period (Arieff, “Crisis in the Central African Republic”, p. 3). Conflict management strategies must therefore be implemented not only centrally, but also regionally and where possible at a municipal level. A greater regionalization and localization also corresponds to the general recommendations for peacekeeping operations of Lakhdar Brahimi (“Effective peace-building requires active engagement with the local parties, and that engagement should be multidimensional in nature.”; Lakhdar Brahimi, “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects“, United Nations, 21.08.2000, paragraph 14). In order to improve the government’s power to enforce its decisions, the police and military, kept weak under Bozizé, must be rebuilt (Stephanie Wolters and Liesl Louw-Vaudran, “Central African Republic’s new president ‘a fresh start’“, Institute for Security Studies, 24.01.2014; cf.: André-Michel Essoungou, “Central African Republic: killings in the time of transition“, Africa Renewal 28, no. 1, April 2014). Due to the constraints under which it is operating, the transitional government must concentrate on the most important issues. These include the reconstruction of the economy, infrastructure and the government. Committing current transitional government resources to the preparation and conduct of elections would be a misplaced expenditure (The UN Security Council had already expressed in UNSCR 2149 its “concern at the collapse of the already fragile administration which limits the ability of the new Transitional Authorities to govern.”; United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 2149 (2014)”, p. 3).

Assessment of the situation and possible conflict management approaches focused on the main conflict source (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image).

Assessment of the situation and possible conflict management approaches focused on the main conflict source (own illustration; to enlarge, click on the image).


Alternative conflict management approaches

Alternative conflict management strategies are shaped by the resources available and the constraints placed on the transitional government. The strategy presented here uses three alternative conflict management approaches. Some of these approaches have been used previously. Here, however, a different implementation is postulated. Rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government in the CAR, together with DDRR and elections should be initiated, financed and supervised at a regional, if possible, municipal level. To keep spoilers in check and guarantee a successful implementation of this strategy, an adequate share of the “fruits of peace” must be guaranteed at regional and municipal levels. At the same time, the transitional government’s security capacities should be strengthened. To avoid a drain on resources and a repolarisation of the stakeholders, national elections should only be held after successful Security Sector Reform (SSR) and DDRR processes.

Priority 1: Rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government
International missions concentrating mainly on DDRR since 1997 have not produced lasting positive results in the CAR. To be successful, an alternative conflict management strategy must focus on rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government while promoting regional and municipal projects. By focusing on developing the agricultural, trades and infrastructure sectors, jobs will be created, generating income and improving the welfare of the population. Additional jobs could be generated by rebuilding government administrative services, the police and the FACA. In addition, this would create new possibilities for reintegrating rebels and rebel leaders.

Funding would be ensured during the first phase by international contributions, with a second phase funded by royalties from the diamond and gold sector, which will also have to be completely reorganised and monitored. The oversight body should include representatives of the government, mine operators and all parties to the conflict.

The advantages lie in regional and municipal involvement, job creation and sustainable progress for all. The disadvantages are the costs. Many of the new jobs created are not likely to become financially self-supporting in the long-term. The extent to which long-term financing by royalties from the diamond and gold sector is possible remains uncertain.

Priority 2: SSR and DDRR
Until now, SSR does not play a central role in the international missions. It could how-ever make a decisive contribution to reintegrating rebels and rebel leaders and strengthening the transitional government. SSR must be done in parallel with the re-construction of the economy, infrastructure and government and coordinated with the DDRR process. Rebuilding the FACA necessitates a centralised approach, while a regional approach is feasible for the police forces.

A regional approach is possible with DDRR and this might increase its chances of success (Gino Vlavonou, “Understanding the ‘failure’ of the Séléka rebellion“, African Security Review 23, no. 3, September 2014, p. 324; see also the example of the “weapons-free villages” campaign in the Solomon Islands: UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 42). To reduce the potential for abuse, cash should not be paid for weapons being handed over. Compensations should offer priority access to reintegration support measures and starter packages with food. This would help prevent an unintentional support for the arms trade (UNDP, “Practice Note”, p. 40, 46). By improving the economic situation and the opportunities to make a living legally and without violence will increase the chances of a successful DDRR process through improved reintegration.

The advantages lie in the long-term strengthening of the transitional government and the reintegration of the rebels. The disadvantage is the amount of time required. International troops must remain on hand to suppress any new violence until the SSR is successfully concluded.

Priority 3: Institutionalization before liberalization
This approach, contrary to UN Resolution 2149, gives secondary importance to the implementation of national elections. They should occur in 2-5 years at the earliest, depending on the progress of the other conflict management approaches. This is also in line with the general recommendations for peacekeeping operations of Lakhdar Brahimi (“Delaying elections to build a sufficiently stable environment in which to hold the elections has a better shot at sustainable peace and can set the basis for future successful democratic development”; Lakhdar Brahimi, “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”, paragraph 44). Even if not democratically legitimate, the transitional government should be strengthened and monopolise state power within the SSR framework.

To reduce the lack of democratic legitimacy, the successful implementation of regional projects should be followed by elections at the municipal level and in the prefectures (cf.: Lombard, “Genocide-mongering does nothing to help us understand the messy dynamics of conflict in the CAR”). One side effect would be a transition to a more decentralised political system. This could also contribute to long-term stabilisation, as regional solutions to regional problems would be encouraged. In addition, it would politically bind the conflicting parties more effectively not only to the central government, but also on the regional level.

The advantages lie in the prioritization of rebuilding the economy, infrastructure and government and strengthening decentralised structures. Further political integration of the conflicting parties at regional and municipal levels could eliminate the occurrence of spoilers and new violence. The disadvantage lies in the lack of democratic legitimacy in the transitional government, which could lead to a rebellion against the transitional government and against the international forces. A transparent approach is therefore a top priority.

Ex-Seleka fighters at a checkpoint on the road out of Bossangoa, November 4, 2013. They regularly rob local residents who have to cross the checkpoint to retum to town after searching for food in the countryside (Photo: Marcus Bleasdale).

Ex-Seleka fighters at a checkpoint on the road out of Bossangoa, November 4, 2013. They regularly rob local residents who have to cross the checkpoint to retum to town after searching for food in the countryside (Photo: Marcus Bleasdale).



The conflict in the CAR is an excellent example of how the causes of a conflict can be hidden by ethnic factors and only ferreted out with detailed analysis. The implementation of preset doctrinal approaches without assessing the situation and the factors involved does not bode well. This has been at the root of the failed international missions since 1997 in the CAR. MINUSCA, in place since mid-September 2014, will not achieve sustained stabilisation for the same reasons. For example, the long-term success of DDRR relies on the economic environment. Nevertheless, the improvement of the economic situation in the CAR is not part of the UN Resolution 2149 mandate for MINUSCA. In general, the focus on holding elections raises critical questions regarding the possible hidden intentions of the states participating in the international missions. Elections cannot solve most causes of conflict, but they do provide a welcome exit strategy. In addition, elections may also lead to new conflicts among stakeholders and drain valuable resources that could be better used elsewhere.

The cause of the conflict must be central to any assessment of the considerations and constraints of the situation: what realistically feasible measures could significantly improve the situation as quickly as possible? In the case of CAR, combining different conflict management approaches into a strategy and the importance of decentralised solutions should be considered. Regional or municipal approaches could incorporate the conflicting parties into the stabilisation process and thus reduce the likelihood of spoilers – not only in the case of the conflict in the CAR. With a decentralized strategy, the various measures could be implemented at different speeds and exemplary solutions could be developed to set the path for regions affected with more problems.

The alternative conflict management strategy proposed for the CAR prioritises three different approaches. The first priority should be regional, if possible municipal projects to rebuild the economy, infrastructure and government to create jobs and have a no-ticeably positive effect that will curb spoilers and form the basis for a successful reintegration of the rebels under DDRR. The second priority of the DDRR process and the SSR should be to reintegrate the rebels and at the same time monopolise state power into the hands of the transitional government. National elections would be conducted only as a third priority. Municipal and regional elections would be held earlier to reduce the democratic deficit.

International efforts in the CAR are disappointing because they focus on their own doctrinal ideas rather than on the underlying causes of the conflict. In this case new approaches are needed. Although conflict-specific strategies do not guarantee success, they do have a high potential to cause a change within the conflict. This means that properly designed and implemented conflict management strategies play an indispensable role in conflict prevention, long-term stabilisation and reconciliation.

Posted in Central African Republic, English, Patrick Truffer, Peacekeeping, Security Policy | 1 Comment

Paranoid Russia is Creating Enemies Everywhere

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in Novo-Ogaryovo, west of Moscow, November 14, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in Novo-Ogaryovo, west of Moscow, November 14, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russia’s bellicosity in recent months appears to be prompting its neighbors to deepen cooperation between one another and with the West, creating the very threat to Russian security the country saw in the first place. It is this unfounded Russian sense of insecurity that has aggravated its security situation.

Russia’s apologists insist the West is to blame for this year’s deterioration in East-West relations by pushing NATO ever closer to Russia’s borders and failing to take its legitimate security interests into account. A well-argued example of this position is John J. Mearsheimer’s recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine.

Mearsheimer, who is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, laments that “the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests” for years before the Ukraine crisis erupted this year. For Russian president Vladimir Putin, he believes, “the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’ — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.”

Whether Ukrainians were right, or had a right, to eject President Viktor Yanukovych after he unexpectedly pulled out of an association treaty with the European Union doesn’t factor into Mearsheimer’s argument. Nor does it seem to factor into Russia’s thinking, which helps explain why it “blames” the West for expanding NATO. Whereas the West is supposed to recognize Russia’s “legitimate” security interests, its former vassals in Central and Eastern Europe are denied the same by Russia’s defenders.

Similar, the people of Ukraine are denied a say in their own future — whether to integrate with the rest of Europe or remain dependent on their former Soviet master — for the sake of appeasing a paranoid Russia.

Russia never accepted that NATO was a purely defensive alliance. Even today, it sees the bloc as a threat when chances of it initiating hostilities against Russia are, of course, remote at best.

Russia’s perspective is not altogether unreasonable. Its territory is difficult to defend and its history is one of continuous invasion, the most recent — World War II — being a particularly devastating experience. Throughout the Cold War period, the enormous sacrifices Russia made to defeat the Nazis were reiterated in schools and propaganda over and over again. During the same period, most Russians were convinced the West intended to attack them. As Thomas Kent, an AP journalist, wrote in the most recent issue of Harriman Magazine:

The United States and the rest of NATO looked threatening to ordinary Soviets. If Americans favored Mercator map projections that made Russia look like a colossus stretching across half the globe, Russia favored polar projections that showed their country ringed by U.S. bases and client states. The Soviet press regularly asserted that the United States spared no expense for weaponry. […] When Americans in senior positions regularly denounced and threatened the Soviet Union, their words essentially confirmed for ordinary Russians what their own government was saying about U.S. intentions. — Thomas Kent, “Russia in the Late Years of Soviet Rule“, Harriman Magazine, no. Summer 2014 (July 15, 2014): 16–21.

The people running Russia today grew up in that period. They grew up with an exaggerated threat perception of the West and that seems to continue to inform their worldview today.

The same may be true for the other side. Eastern and Northern Europeans see Russia’s behavior today as proof that it’s falling back into old patterns. So do some strategists further west. Their response is to sever ties with Russia — by imposing economic sanctions — and strengthen their defenses, leaving Russia more isolated and more vulnerable. In effect, Russia’s behavior is creating the very conditions it believed it was only responding to.

Former Soviet satellite state Poland is the most aggressive in pushing the anti-Russian line. It urged a strong NATO response when Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March and announced last month that it was shifting its military strength east, to face Russia.

Spiegel map Russia Europe

How Russia sees Europe. Map from Der Spiegel

This week, Baltic and Nordic countries and the United Kingdom announced they would improve intelligence-sharing and widen cross-border air force training in the region in response to both Russia’s aggression in southeastern Ukraine — where it is supporting a separatist uprising against the Kiev government — and its regular incursions of NATO airspace.

Even Germany, which has been more sympathetic to Russia than most, condemns its actions in Ukraine and supports the sanctions. According to the Financial Times, it also tried to get China to put pressure on Putin at a time when the Russian leader eyed his Asian neighbor as an alternative destination for oil and gas sales.

The likes of Mearsheimer will argue that the West must simply take Russia’s paranoia as a given and act accordingly — even if that means leaving new allies in Eastern Europe, who want to be part of the West, rather than subjugated to Russia (again), in the cold. Their advice to Western governments is to allow Russia a sphere of influence and conspire with it to ensure the neutrality of countries such as Finland and Ukraine.

Surely we didn’t win the Cold War, though, only to deny the legitimate aspirations of people who know only too well what it’s like to live under the Russian yoke? If the Fins want to be in NATO or the Ukrainians want to join the European Union, that’s between them and those organizations. No one has to ask Russia for permission. Nor should the West have to accommodate Russia’s irrational threat perception. Its paranoia is the problem, not the urge of other countries to defend themselves.

Posted in English, Nick Ottens, Russia | 1 Comment