Tested @ RIMPAC 2014 (part 1)

RIMPAC 2014 is taking place between June 26 and August 01, 2014. The different exercises provide a good opportunity to test military equipment, which is still under development. For example Boston Dynamics Legged Squad Support System (LS3), also known as “BigDog“. Marines with the India company of the 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines tested the system from July 10 to 12 in the Kahuku Training Area. One LS3 unit is able to carry slightly above 180 kg (400 lbs) and has enough fuel for a 30 km (20 mile) mission lasting 24 hours.

In my opinion, the LS3 is too noisy and the dependency on fuel is a considerable disadvantage. Even if the use of real mules is technologically unspectacular, their use may be favourably. After all, the US Marines used real mules in Afghanistan (Quelle: Gordon Lubold, “Fighting a high-tech war with a low-tech mule“, The Christian Science Monitor, 03.05.2009).

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The EU-Russia Energy Dialogue – or the problem of imposing sanctions

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.

Institutionalism – a further development of liberalism – assumes that universal norms and international institutions can overcome the anarchy in the international system of nation-states. Universal norms and international institutions integrate states, increase their mutual interdependence, and thus help to prevent war. This interdependence in turn leads to a relative devaluation of military power due to concern over relative losses in the event of an armed conflict (cf.: Seka Smith, “Teil 5: Zum Ewigen Frieden: Die Triade des demokratischen Friedens“, offiziere.ch, 29.03.2013). Furthermore, this interdependence complicates the imposing of sanctions.

EU-Energy-Import-2011In the field of energy supply, such interdependence exists between the EU and Russia. The EU depends on Russian fossil fuel exports due to the high demand for energy in the EU, Russia’s significant energy reserves and Russia’s geographical proximity. With a share of 35%, Russia is by far the EU’s largest supplier of crude oil and is also a key supplier of natural gas (30%) and solid fuel (26%) imports in the EU (European Commission, “EU Energy in Figures, Statistical Pocketbook,” 2013, 24). In return, the EU is by far Russia’s largest trading partner. Both the EU and Russia have an interest in a secure flow of energy. The EU-Russia energy dialogue initiated in 2000 is based on this common interest and is aimed at establishing a close partnership in investment, infrastructure, trade, and energy efficiency. This partnership is also intended to have a positive effect on other issues as well (European Commission, “Communication from President Prodi, Vice President de Palacio and Commissioner Patten to the Commission – The EU-Russia Energy Dialogue,” 2001).

Russia’s role during the Crimean crisis and the unrest in eastern Ukraine, along with the EU’s response, pose a severe test for the EU-Russia energy dialogue. As a result, the current status of the EU-Russia energy dialogue must be questioned and as well as defining any role it could play in improving mutual understanding and accommodation in general. In this essay, the current status of the EU-Russia energy dialogue and its most important achievements will be discussed in the first chapter, while the second chapter will address the main points of contention. The conclusion will show today’s role of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue.

EU-Russia Energy Dialogue main achievements
With the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue, the EU hoped to establish a close partnership with Russia in the energy sector. The dialogue was meant to serve as a model for cooperation in other areas. By contrast, Russia saw it primarily as a means for safeguarding economic interests. It is not surprising that, to date, the EU and Russia have not gone beyond a supplier-consumer relationship in the energy sector. The dialogue mainly focuses on technical areas (Lars-Christian U. Talseth, “The EU-Russia Energy Dialogue – Travelling without Moving,” SWP Working Paper FG 5, 01.04.2012, 3f). The most outstanding achievement was the establishment of an early warning mechanism in response to supply disruptions during the gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine. This is to ensure an early exchange of information between the EU and Russia in case of imminent delivery interruptions. The related memorandum was renewed in 2011, and within the framework of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue’s measures for prevention, enables the bridging and mitigation of consequences (Günther Oettinger and Sergei Shmatko, “Memorandum on a mechanism for preventing and overcoming emergency situations in the energy sector within the framework of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue (Early Warning Mechanism),” EU-Russia Energy Dialogue, 24 Feb 2011, section 11).

This is not the first time such an initiative has been launched. Indeed, the interlocutors of the Energy Dialogue have been very successful at coming up with new ways of discussing old grievances, hence the proliferation of such “roadmaps”, “common spaces” and “partnerships”. But according to Russian officials I have spoken to, the new energy roadmap has been met with little enthusiasm on the Russian side, and a corresponding indifference within the EU. The Russians claim that their input has been mostly ignored by the EU Commission, which has also launched its own 2050 energy roadmap, and is thus more interested in going it alone. — Lars-Christian U. Talseth, “The EU-Russia Energy Dialogue – Travelling without Moving,” SWP Working Paper FG 5, 01.04.2012, 5.

The adoption of a common “Roadmap on EU-Russia Energy Cooperation until 2050” in March 2013 could take common relations in the energy sector to a new level, provided that the recommendations it contains are implemented seriously. However, there has been little progress in the last ten years with regard to the priorities listed therein, which are almost identical to those in the establishment of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue. There is still uncertainty as to what extent Russian interests were considered in this roadmap and as to how realistic its implementation is. In particular, the current tensions due to Russia’s role during the Crimean crisis, the unrest in eastern Ukraine and the sanctions adopted by the EU, represent crucial hurdles. After overcoming them, a long-term rebuilding of mutual trust will be necessary.

Main points of contention
With regard to the liberalization of the energy market, there were already disagreements between the EU and Russia before the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue. Not without bias is the EU’s interest in a deregulated energy market, whereby, for example, third-party companies would have access to pipelines. This is the aim of the Energy Charter Treaty propagated by the EU and valid for all EU Member States. For reasons having to do with power politics, Russia is not interested in the liberalization of its energy market, nor in unfettered access to state-controlled and monopolized pipelines. The Energy Charter Treaty was signed by Russia in 1994 but has not been ratified. With the third energy package, which calls for a separation of production, transport and distribution of all energy companies operating in the EU, the EU is placing Russia under increasing pressure via the conclusion of contracts. Specifically, the EU is calling for the sale of the distribution networks or their subordination to an independent operator (on the Russian side also called the “anti-Gazprom clause”; Lisa Pick, “EU-Russia energy relations: a critical analysis,” The POLIS Journal 7, Summer 2012, 330f). With respect to the early bilateral agreements concluded between the EU countries neighbouring the South Stream project and Russia, the European Commission called for the renegotiation of contracts at the end of 2013. And finally, under the sanctions in mid-March 2014, the EU has suspended their participation in the South Stream project.

putin_saintbEven otherwise, the various pipeline projects have given rise to disputes. For example, the Nord Stream project between Gazprom, German, Dutch and French companies does not take into account the energy market liberalization targeted by the EU. Gazprom’s majority share (51%), and the takeover of large parts of the German natural gas infrastructure (including strategic gas storage), establish additional dependencies on Russia. In addition, the Nord Stream pipeline circumvents the Eastern European countries, which has also led to controversy within the EU (Andrew E. Kramer, “Russia Gas Pipeline Heightens East Europe’s Fears“, The New York Times, 12.10.2009).

The relations between the EU and Russia in the energy sector are characterized less by achievements and disputes, than by strong interdependence. In the medium to long term, the EU is dependent upon Russian energy supplies, and in turn Russia is dependent on the European energy market and its revenues. The EU-Russia Energy Dialogue plays an important role as a diplomatic platform in this regard, even if its original goals – a close partnership and serving as a model for other policy areas – could not be reached. To date, the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue has been unable to sustainably influence mutual understanding and accommodation in the energy sector – as before, the EU and Russia are maintaining a supplier-consumer relationship. Despite areas of common interest, e.g. with respect to securing the energy flow, the points of contention are too prominent, particularly the issue of market liberalization.

Serious implementation of the common roadmap could bring the EU’s relations with Russia in the energy sector to a new level in the long term. In particular, a great potential for cooperation exists in the areas of energy efficiency and renewable energy (cf.: Caroline Kuzemko, “Ideas, power and change: explaining EU-Russia energy relations“, Journal of European Public Policy 21, no. 1, 2014, 69). This is seriously complicated by Russia’s role during the Crimean crisis and the unrest in eastern Ukraine, along with the EU’s response to the situation. The associated tensions must be overcome as quickly as possible and the lost trust rebuilt. The imposition of economic sanctions by the EU could stymie the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue for years – with negative consequences for both sides.

Posted in Basics, English, Patrick Truffer | 1 Comment

Spionageskandal: Get real and start spying!

Von Danny Chahbouni. Danny studiert Geschichte und Politikwissenschaft an der Philipps-Universität Marburg.

Einfahrt des BND in Pullach. Die CIA führte anscheinend eine Quelle im deutschen Auslandsnachrichtendienst.

Einfahrt des BND in Pullach. Die CIA führte anscheinend eine Quelle im deutschen Auslandsnachrichtendienst.

Die amerikanischen Spionagefälle im Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) und im Verteidigungsministerium (BMVg) markieren für Politik und Medien einen neuen Tiefpunkt im deutsch-amerikanischen Verhältnis. Seit dem Beginn der NSA-Affäre im letzten Jahr dominiert in der deutschen Öffentlichkeit das Gefühl durch die USA betrogen worden zu sein. “Ausspähen unter Freunden, das geht gar nicht”, ist dabei das von der Kanzlerin persönlich geprägte Leitmotiv für die Empörungswelle. Die Entwicklungen der letzten Tage zeigen eindrucksvoll, dass das Verständnis eines “No-Spy-Ethos” eine deutsche Wunschvorstellung ist.

Geheimdienst? Warum das denn?
Die Perser entsandten Kundschafter als “Augen der Könige”, Alexander der Große tat es ebenso wie Iulius Caesar, der uns die Aufklärungsergebnisse gleichzeitig in Form seines Werkes “De bello gallico” überliefert hat. Die Entstehung der Diplomatie verlagerte das zweitälteste Gewerbe der Welt an die Höfe und führte zur dauerhaften Etablierung der Institutionen, die wir heute als Geheimdienste bezeichnen. Das einzige, was sich im Verlauf der Jahrtausende dabei geändert hat, sind die technischen Möglichkeiten der Nachrichtenbeschaffung. Den Grund für Spionage hat der antike Autor Thukydides bereits vor über 2000 Jahren vortrefflich dargestellt. Im fünften Buch seines Werkes über den Peloponnesischen Krieg erklären die Athener den Bewohnern von Melos, warum sie gerade ihre Insel besetzt haben.

(2) Wir glauben nämlich, dass der Gott wahrscheinlich, der Mensch ganz sicher allezeit nach dem Zwang der Natur überall dort, wo er Macht hat, herrscht. […] Wir befolgen dieses Gesetz in dem Bewusstsein, dass auch ihr oder andere, die dieselbe Macht wie wir errungen haben, nach demselben Grundsatz verfahren würden. (Thuk, V, 105, 2).

Wie so oft geht es um Macht und Herrschaft: Um zu herrschen und Macht auszuüben, werden Information über mögliche Antagonisten, die sich als innere oder äußere Bedrohung für die eigene Position erweisen könnten, benötigt. Besitzt man das nötige Wissen über Gegenspieler, können anhand der Informationen politische Entscheidungen getätigt werden, im Fachjargon werden solche Informationen, aufgrund derer direkte Entschlüsse gefällt werden können, als “actionable intelligence” bzeichnet. Hier zeigen sich nebenher bereits zwei Stationen des Intelligence Cycle, nämlich Zielfeststellung und politische Entscheidungfindung anhand des fertigen Produkts. Für die eigentliche Arbeit, also die Sammlung, Auswertung und Analyse von Informationen, unterhält nahezu jeder Staat einen Geheimdienst. In Deutschland sind es drei Dienste auf Bundesebene, was winzig anmutet im Vergleich zur riesigen US-Intelligence Community.

Warum die Amerikaner so viel mehr investieren in ihre Dienste, wird deutlich, wenn man Geheimdienste nicht als “Inbegriff des Bösen” und “unfähige Schlapphüte” betrachtet – wie in Deutschland gerne getan – sondern ganz pragmatisch als Service-Einrichtung der Regierung. Die erbrachte Dienstleistung ist dabei von elementarster Bedeutung, sie dient schließlich, um nochmal auf das oben genannte Zitat zurückzukommen, der Ausübung von Herrschaft, und stellt damit eine Quelle, aus welcher der “Leviathan” seine Macht gewinnt.

Geheimdienste sind so betrachtet äußerst realistische Instrumente des Staates, da ihr Auftrag darauf abzielt, dem eigenen Auftraggeber einen Vorteil zu verschaffen, in einem System, das grundsätzlich anarchisch strukturiert ist und in dem die Staaten in Konkurrenz miteinander stehen. Spionage an sich ist überdies nicht völkerrechtswidrig, wird aber von allen Staaten strafrechtlich geahndet. Das ist einmal mehr ein sehr realistischer Gedanke, denn es impliziert den großen Wettstreit aller gegen alle. Alle Staaten nutzen Spionage als außenpolitisches Mittel, um sich einen Informationsvorsprung zu verschaffen, gleichzeitig wird Agententätigkeit, die den eigenen Interessen entgegenläuft, jedoch verfolgt.

Information about the enemy
Mit dem nüchtern realistischen Blick auf die Ereignisse der letzten Tage, haben die USA einfach kein Interesse daran, ihre Position als Supermacht aufzugeben, sondern werden im Gegenteil alles daran setzen, um ihre Machtposition zu festigen und weiter auszubauen. Die amerikanische Definition für den Begriff “Intelligence” lautet “information about the enemy”. Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland ist in diesem Sinne kein militärischer Feind, sondern ein Machtkontrahent, vor allem in ökonomischen Belangen. Darüber hinaus sollte auch bedacht werden, dass der “11. September” zum Teil in Hamburg geplant wurde. Die deutschen Beziehungen zu Russland, die sich durchaus auch als Belastung für die NATO auswirken, tun ihr übriges dazu, um Deutschland für die amerikanischen Dienste interessant zu machen. Das vor kurzem ausgerechnet der Koordinator für die transatlantischen Beziehungen seinen Fokus “nach Osten verlagert hat”, dürfte das Vertrauen in die Deutschen ebenfalls nicht unbedingt verbessert haben. Auch wenn die USA unter der Obama-Administration ihren Schwerpunkt in den pazifischen Raum verlagern wollten, hat wohl niemand ernsthaft geglaubt, dass die Amerikaner das Interesse an Europa gänzlich aufgeben würden.

Wenn die Kanzlerin in diesem Kontext davon spricht, dass Freunde sich nicht bespitzeln und die Affäre den Blutdruck von Wolfgang Schäuble höher steigen lässt als alle Euro-Krisen in der Vergangenheit zusammen, dann zeigt das vor allem, dass die politische Prägung in Deutschland nach wie vor gänzlich anders ist, als die der Amerikaner. Für die Amerikaner hat die nationale Sicherheit – nicht erst sei dem “11. September” – Vorrang. Ökonomische und ideologische Erwägungen treten in den Hintergrund. Das ist eine sehr realistische Denkweise und folglich hat man keine Probleme damit, seine Geheimdienste so einzusetzen, wie es den eigenen Interessen dienlich ist. Dass das in Deutschland, wo die realistische Denkschule vor allem in der Politik so gut wie gar nicht vertreten ist, auf Unverständnis stoßen könnte, wurde entweder falsch eingeschätzt, oder als einfach egal angesehen, weil sehr wohl bekannt ist, dass die Deutschen in sicherheitspolitischen Belangen – so oder so – auf die Amerikaner angewiesen sind.

Amerikanisch-deutsche Verständnisschwierigkeiten. Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und US-Präsident Obama.

Amerikanisch-deutsche Verständnisschwierigkeiten. Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und US-Präsident Obama.

Neue deutsche Aufmüpfigkeit?
Ist die Ausweisung des amerikanischen Legalresidenten der Beginn einer Emanzipationsbewegung, weg von den USA? Wohl kaum, zumindest wäre das grob fahrlässig. Der Rauswurf des “Chief of Station” kann getrost als Beruhigungspille für die Bevölkerung gesehen werden und ist darüber hinaus ein geschickter Schachzug der deutschen Bundesregierung, um sich nicht den Vorwurf gefallen lassen zu müssen, das nichts gegen die US-Spionage getan würde. Die stärksten Verbündeten zu verprellen, während Russland, China und andere Staaten massiv in Deutschland Spionage betreiben, zeugt allerdings davon, dass in Deutschland die regeln der Machtpolitik nicht gelernt wurden. Mit den USA verbindet Deutschland eine Partnerschaft, die durch eine große Interessenschnittmenge im Bereich, der Sicherheitspolitik, der Wirtschaft und nicht zuletzt der ideellen Werte gekennzeichnet ist. Im Falle Russlands und Konsorten schrumpft diese Schnittmenge schnell zusammen auf wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit.

Die deutsche Außenpolitik ist in den letzten Jahren häufig und zu Recht als “Politik des erhobenen Zeigefingers” kritisiert worden und dieser falsche Idealismus zeigt sich auch in der politischen Reaktion auf die gegenwärtigen Spionagefälle. Anstatt mit dem erhobenen Zeigefinger die Amerikaner über Freundschaft zu belehren und andauernd die rote Karte für die Gegenspieler zu fordern, sollte man die Regeln des “Great Game’s” lernen. Get real and start spying.

Posted in Danny Chahbouni, Intelligence | Leave a comment

Personal Theories of Power: The Cognitive Domain

by Lt Col Dave “Sugar” Lyle, USAF. This article is part of the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint Bridge-CIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

1-5Lx7e8KcK1M-1WYf_pMBzQComplementary mental models hold the social world together. It’s not the lines painted on the road that keep us from careening into each other on the highway, as we sadly find out too often. Paper money has no intrinsic value on its own, unless you like the pictures and holograms, are trying to start a fire, need a bookmark, or have just run out of toilet paper. Online credit purchases do not even require the plastic card anymore, and only work because we collectively believe that strings of ones and zeros — stored electronically in computers that we’ll never see — equal our right to receive services and things from other people, and keep them. In all of these cases, it’s not about the symbolic artifact. Our agreements about what those artifacts represent, and our willingness to act on those beliefs, are what keep the wheels of society turning.

Our brains are hard wired to socialize; to find personal meaning in the groups we belong to and the groups we interact with. If there’s a group, we instinctively figure out if we belong to it and what our place is in the pecking order. We usually try to maintain or improve our position in the hierarchy, even if it’s only within a subgroup we identify with. And to do so, we simultaneously cooperate and compete with others, usually both at the same time.

If it’s true that the plot of every story in the world can be reduced to trying to answer the question “Who am I?”, then it speaks volumes about the importance of identity to human beings. In fact, our brains process things that we associate with our own identity in different ways than we process things that we see as being “other”. We have a very hard time rationally questioning anything that becomes part of who or what we imagine ourselves to be. But how do we know what is “us”, and who or what is “other”?

We make up stories to set the boundaries. We love stories, and literally can’t live socially without them. The basis of our shared mental models, we encode our stories in metaphors, in ceremonial rituals, in songs, in books and films, and in various physical artifacts that help us to remember and communicate both the stories and their meaning. We use the stories as guides for social interaction, and we rewrite them over time to incorporate new experiences. Stories help us understand where we’ve been, and set the direction for collective effort in the future. They are our guideposts for understanding and negotiating ever changing social landscapes, and for accepting our roles within them. Because we have stories, we have identity, we learn to specialize, and we learn to work together for mutual benefit, creating far better lives together than we could ever possibly experience separately.

And here’s the real kicker. We only think we’re in charge of what we believe, and that we deliberately control our own decisions through conscious, rational thought. What really happens is that a multitude of mental submodels — most of which we’re not even aware of — compete for control of our conscious attention, and the domination of our decisions. The idea of unconscious thought influencing the conscious is nothing new — the Greeks were talking about it thousands of years ago. But what is new, as we learn more about the neurobiological foundations of our cognitive processes, is how little control we actually have over our own thoughts most of the time. “Gut feel” intuition usually trumps the pure, unbiased processes of reason that we like to credit ourselves for, but seldom employ in practice — but that’s not always a bad thing. So how does this work inside the mind itself?

Deep Thought

Heuristics — the “rules of thumb” built in our brains through combinations of conscious and unconscious encoding — are really combinations of associated and connected mental submodels that are called up in specific contexts. Formed from the bottom up over time, ideas and memory literally emerge from countless physical structures in our brain building and interacting through electrochemical processes. With billions of neurons in our brains, the combinatory possibilities of brain processes are even greater than the known numbers of stars in the universe. To add to the complexity, nature and nurture combine as co-creative forces, ensuring that no two brains are ever alike, even if the basic structures are similar. The true “Great Unknown” can be found in the space between our ears.

But the human mind isn’t completely unknowable either. As Joseph Campbell observed, the same myths are constantly reinvented over the millennia because basic human nature — and the basic cognitive heuristics that form it — is universal across ages and cultures. An intuitive understanding of this has been the key to success for generations of generals, politicians, illusionists, and con artists, giving them the power to predict and shape human behavior. But now, through neuroscience and neurobiology, we’re finally starting to better understand the underlying biochemical processes that were at work the whole time.

Imagine all of those competing mental submodels as if they were Lotto balls, tumbling around in the hopper of our brains, competing to be selected as the winning ball at the top of conscious attention. Now imagine that all of those balls are connected to the other balls in various ways by small, invisible strings, with different degrees of connection and strength. If you could grab specific balls and strings, in specific sequences, you’d have a better chance of influencing which balls make it to the top of the hopper to be selected. You may not know exactly which one will be the winner, but your odds of predicting it are much better if you know something about how those balls are connected together, and how they interact. It works the same way with interconnected memories, ideas, and feelings: “cognitive priming” activates specific mental heuristics at specific times, for better or for worse. The knowledge of identity stories — and the history of how they came to be — is crucial to building your own mental model of other people’s mental models. It’s this “Theory of Mind” we use every day to negotiate and modify the heuristic driven social landscape, as we seek to shape it in ways that favor us.

Except it’s not always that easy. Sometimes the stories don’t match up. Sometimes we disagree about who is in our group, who gets to have what, who gets to tell others what to do, and what should happen if we disagree on these things. We try to define the boundaries with artifacts that evoke the stories. We write laws and codes. We wear uniforms, and issue IDs and badges. We buy power ties, $50,000 wristwatches, and $500,000 cars to cement our place in the social strata. Then we use these stories and artifacts to reinforce our place and our “rights” within the social system. We plead. We cajole. We flatter. We threaten. And finally, we fight.

We fight when our primitive brain senses that something is threatening our physical survival. We fight when something threatens our identity or place in the pecking order, and occasionally we fight over things peripheral to survival and identity that do not threaten the first two. We fight over fear, honor, and interest, as Thucydides observed, and we usually do it in that order. And when we fight, we often equate the ability to maim and kill as having power.

But killing really isn’t the point when it comes to power. While it’s true that killing someone else is a way to exercise power, and a way to prevent someone else from exerting power over you, power is much more about influencing their mental models of the people who you don’t kill, in order to drive the continuing social interaction in directions that you favor. As Thomas Schelling once said, it’s usually much more useful to have the ability to kill someone than it is to actually do it. And as he also said, it’s the loser who determines when the fighting stops, not the winner.

So how does the loser accept the new reality? They rewrite their story in ways that rescue their personal and social identity. A temporary stability can be maintained under the threat of future sanction and violence, but when peace follows war, it happens because the stories of the victor and vanquished have become complementary enough that the loser can not only answer the “What am I?” question with honor, but perhaps more importantly, “What can I become?” favorably under the new status quo.

Using knowledge of the basic human cognitive processes, and the stories that define people’s identity — to take actions that convince others to change their stories, identities, and actions in ways that accommodate yours, accepting your story as their own in the ultimate exercise — is called POWER.

• • •

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.

The Bridge is a blog dedicated to strategy and military affairs. It was formed in 2013 to bring together forward-thinking junior to mid-grade officers and practitioners from a variety of fields to analyze and write about current and future national security challenges.


Posted in Basics, Dave Lyle, English, General Knowledge, Security Policy | 1 Comment

Veranstaltungshinweis: “Wehrhafte Schweiz” – ein einmaliges historisches Filmdokument zur Schweizer Armee

Der Armeepavillon an der Expo'64 (© Musées lausannois).

Der Armeepavillon an der Expo’64 (© Musées lausannois).

Am 12. und 13. September 2014 präsentiert Memoriav, der Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturguts der Schweiz, im Rahmen von “50 Jahre Expo’64″ einzigartige audiovisuelle Schätze dieser unvergesslichen Landesausstellung in einem 360-Grad-Panorama-Kino auf dem Bundesplatz in Bern. Gezeigt werden kontextualisierte Ausschnitte von “Rund um Rad und Schiene” (Thema: Schweizerische Bundesbahnen), “Wehrhafte Schweiz” (Thema: Schweizer Armee) sowie “La Suisse s’interroge” (Thema: selbstkritische Auseinandersetzung mit der Schweiz). Sie ergeben zusammen ein facettenreiches Bild einer Schweiz der 1960er Jahre: martialisch im Kalten Krieg, touristisch weltoffen in der Hochkonjunktur und zunehmend selbstkritisch in einem gesellschaftlichen Umbruch.

2014 jährt sich die Expo’64 zum 50sten Mal. Sie war aus gesellschaftlicher und kultureller Sicht für die Schweiz von grösster Bedeutung, indem sie ein Land zeigte, das sich am Scheideweg zwischen Tradition und Moderne, zwischen geistiger Landesverteidigung, kaltem Krieg und sozialem Wandel befand. Lange blieb unklar, ob und wie sich die Armee an der Landesausstellung von 1964 präsentieren sollte. Schliesslich wurde auf dem Gelände der Expo’64 als Armeepavillon ein mit 141 Betonstacheln gepanzerten Igel konstruiert, welcher die strategische Lage der Schweiz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs und die nationale Verteidigungsdoktrin symbolisieren sollte, welche auch während des Kalten Krieges bestand hatte. Im Auftrag der Schweizer Armee wurde die Public Relation Agentur Farner beauftragt, für die Landesaustelllung das Bild einer modernen Armee zu entwerfen. Im Gegensatz zum weit verbreiteten Bild eines sich verteidigenden Volkes, setzte die Agentur auf das Zusammenspiel von Soldat und Technik, bildgewaltig umgesetzt mit einem betont nüchternen Kommentar. Man wollte beeindrucken und nicht den Eindruck von Belehrung erzeugen. Im Film und in der Ausstellung im Armeepavillon wird alles gezeigt, was die Schweizer Armee damals vorzuweisen hatte: Hawker Hunter, de Havilland Vampire, de Havilland Venom, Centurion Panzer, Schützenpanzer M113, 35 mm Flab Kan 63 mit dem Feuerleitgerät 63 Superfledermaus, diverse Saurer M8 und 4MH, Flammenwerfer, Häuserkampf, Sprengungen usw.

3-Panel Beispielbild nach der Farbrekonstruktion.

3-Panel Beispielbild nach der Farbrekonstruktion.

“Wehrhafte Schweiz” wurde in einem Spezialformat produziert: In höchstmöglicher Bildqualität auf 70mm gedreht, ist die Kamera ständig in Bewegung auf Schlitten, Flugzeugen und Hängebrücken. Doch dafür fehlte das handwerkliche Können in der Schweiz. Mit dem niederländischen Regisseur John Fernhout, dem US-amerikanischen Kameramann Robert Gaffney – ehemaliger Kameraassistent bei Stanley Kubricks2001: A Space Odyssey” – und dem deutschen Kameraassistent Dieter Gäbler wurden die richtigen Personen zur Umsetzung des Projektes gefunden. “Wehrhafte Schweiz” verfügt über weite Strecken eine unerwartet zeitgemässe Ästhetik der 60er Jahre. Unter dem Namen “Fortress of Peace” sorgte der Film auch international für Furore und wurde unter der Kategorie “Best Live Action Short Film” für den Oscar nominiert. In der Schweiz überzeugt er die einen sehr, der Militärpublizist Gustav Däniker spricht von einem neuen Leitbild der Armee, andere empfinden die Darstellung als zu militärisch und vermissen die Betonung des Milizcharakters der Armee. “Wehrhafte Schweiz” ist aus heutiger Sicht ein einzigartiges Dokument der Positionsfindung der Schweizer Armee im Kalten Krieg und ein aussergewöhnliches Kapitel Schweizer Filmgeschichte mit einer breiten Wahrnehmung über die Schweiz hinaus.

“Wehrhafte Schweiz” wurde in den letzten Monaten vom Zentrum elektronische Medien (ZEM) des Eidgenössisches Departement für Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport restauriert und digitalisiert und wird am 12. und 13. September 2014 auf dem Bundesplatz in Bern erstmals nach 50 Jahren wieder in seiner “Ursprungsversion” der Öffentlichkeit gezeigt.

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Memoriav zeigt am Freitag, 12. September 2014 10:00 bis 18:30 Uhr (im 30-Minuten-Takt; letzte Vorführung: 18:00 Uhr) und Samstag, 13. September 2014: 10:00 bis 22:00 Uhr (im 30-Minuten-Takt; letzte Vorführung 21:30 Uhr) diese Filme in einem 360-Grad-Panorama-Kino auf dem Bundesplatz in Bern. Der Eintritt ist frei.

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Posted in Armed Forces, History, Switzerland | Leave a comment

Europe’s Role in an East Asian War

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.

Major war in East Asia is a very unpleasant, but not unthinkable scenario. Of course, the US would be involved from day one in any military conflict in the East or South China Seas. However, Europe’s role would be less clear, due to its increasing strategic irrelevance. Most probably, except the UK, Europeans would deliver words only.

Claims in the South China Sea (Source: The Economist).

Claims in the South China Sea (Source: The Economist).

Europe’s reactions depend on America
While Asia’s naval arms race keeps going, tensions are rising further in the East and South China Seas. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any side will lunch a blitz-strike and, thereby, start a regional war. Although China is increasing its major combat capabilities, it is instead already using a salami-slicing tactic to secure its large claims. However, the worst of all threats are unintended incidents, caused for example by young nervous fighter pilots, leading to a circle of escalations without an exit in sight.

Hence, let us discuss the very unpleasant scenario that either there would be a major war between China and Japan or between China and South China Sea neighboring countries, such as Vietnam or the Philippines. Of course, the US would be involved in the conflict from day one. But what about Europe? The Old Continent would surely be affected, especially by the dramatic global economic impact an East Asian War would have. However, European countries’ reactions would very large depend on what the US is doing. The larger the US engagement, the louder Washington’s calls for a coalition of the willing and capable.

The UK would (maybe) go
The Royal Navy undertakes annual “Cougar Deployments” to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the UK still has expeditionary capabilities to join US-led operations in East of Malacca. Disaster relief after Typhoon Haiyan by the destroyer HMS Daring and the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious proved that British capability. While Daring is a sophisticated warship, the 34 year old Illustrious with her few helicopters and without fixed-wing aircraft would not be of much operational worth.

Moreover, since 2001, the Royal Navy always operates one SSN with Tomahawk cruise-missiles in the Indian Ocean, probably the most sophisticated high-intensity warfare platfrom the Royal Navy would have to offer for an East Asia deployment. In addition, the UK still has access to ports in Singapore and Brunei, although there is no guarantee that these countries, when not involved in the conflict, would open their ports for British ships underway to war. Hence, Darwin in Australia, which is likely to join forces with the US, could be an other option for replenishment.

Royal Navy SSN in the Suez Canal in 2001 (Photo: The Hindu).

Royal Navy SSN in the Suez Canal in 2001 (Photo: The Hindu).

Through the Polar Route (a route European airlines used while Soviet airspace was closed) and with aerial refueling or stops in Canada and Alaska, Britain could also deploy some of its Eurofighters to Japan. In consequence, Britain would be capable of doing, at least, something.

The question mark is, if Britain is willing to take action. Surely, UKIP’s Nigel Farage would not hesitate a minute to use the broad public reluctance to expeditionary endeavors for his’ own means. As in case of Syria, a lack of public support at home could prevent the UK from a military involvement. It would be hard for any UK Government to sell to the British voter to cut back public spending at home while signing checks for the Royal Navy heading towards East Asian waters.

France would not make a difference
Beside the US, France is the world’s only navy with a permanent presence through bases in all three oceans. Although, with one frigate, France’s Pacific presence of surface warships is relatively small. The one French Tahiti-based frigate deployed to an East Asian theater would not make a difference, but be a rather small show of force.

Like Britain, France permanently operates warships in the Indian Ocean, which it could also deploy to East Asia. Its nuclear-powered carrier Charles de Gaulle and SSN would also be able to tour beyond Singapore, however with a relatively long reaction time.

Paris’ main hurdle would be the same as London’s: The lack of public support. Le Pen would do exactly the same as UKIP and mobilize publicly against a French engagement and, thereby, against the government. Moreover, France has not the money necessary for any substantial and high-intensity engagement. In addition, a weak president like Hollande would fear the political risks. Given the operation ends in a disaster for the French, e.g. with the Charles de Gaulle sunk by the Chinese, Mr. Hollande would probably have to resign. Hence, do not expect an active role of France during an East Asian conflict.

Frigate Floréal, at anchor in Bora-Bora lagoon, 24th of Novembre 2002 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

Frigate Floréal, at anchor in Bora-Bora lagoon, 24th of Novembre 2002 (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

No role for NATO and EU
On paper, NATO, with its Standing Maritime Groups, seems to be capable of deploying relevant naval forces across the globe. In practice, however, any mission with a NATO logo needs approval of 28 member states. Due to NATO’s present pivot to Russia, many members would object any new NATO involvement outside the Euro-Atlantic Area. As the US prefers coalitions of the willing and capable anyway, there would be no role for NATO in an East Asian war.

In addition, there is also no role for the EU. Since 2011, the rejections each year to the EU for observing the East Asia Summit are showing Brussels’ enduring strategic irrelevance in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, neutral EU members, like Sweden and Austria, would never allow any active involvement. It is even questionable, if EU members could agree on a common political position or sanctions – something they have already failed to do often enough.

Dependent on the size and kind of US response, smaller European countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway may join forces with the US Navy and send single vessels through the Panama Canal into the Pacific or replace US warships on other theaters. This is not far from reality, because these countries did already sent warships into the Pacific for the RIMPAC exercise. However, their only motivation would be to use these deployments to make their voices better heard in Washington.

Sino-German Summit 2012 (Photo: Thomas Koehler).

Sino-German Summit 2012 (Photo: Thomas Koehler).

What would Germany do?
First of all, Germany is the enduring guarantee that, when confronted with major war in East Asia, NATO and EU will do nothing else than sending out press releases about their “deep concern”. Being happy that ISAF’s end terminates the era of large expeditionary deployments, Germany’s political class would never approve an active military role in East Asia – left aside that Germany would not be able to contribute much, anyway.

Germany would first and foremost defend its trade relationships with China, which is in its national interests. Thus, the much more interesting question is, if the German government would develop the will to take on the initiative for a diplomatic solution. Germany has very good relationships with the US, China, Japan and South Korea. Vietnam and other South East Asian countries have frequently expressed greater interest in deeper cooperation with Germany.

Hence, Germany has the political weight necessary to work for a diplomatic solution. The question is whether German politicians would be willing to work for that solution themselves. Most probably, Berlin’s press releases would call for the United Nations and the “International Community” (whoever that would be in such a scenario) to take action.

What Germany could do and what would get approval at home, is to implement measures of ending hostilities and re-establishing peace – maybe by an UN-mandated maritime monitoring mission or by the build-up of a new trust-creating security architecture.

Europe’s limits
The debate about a European role in an East Asian major war is largely hypothetical. Nevertheless, it teaches us three relevant lessons.

  1. We see how politically and militarily limited Europe already has become in the early stages of the 21st century. Given current trends continue, imagine how deep Europe’s abilities will have been sunk in twenty years.
  2. The main reasons for Europe’s limits are the lack of political will, public support and money. Europe’s march to irrelevance is not irreversible. However, it would need the political will for change and an economic recovery making new financial resources available.
  3. We are witnessing an increasing European geopolitical and strategic irrelevance beyond its wider neighborhood. In reality, Europe’s role in an East Asian war would be nothing else but words.
Posted in English, Felix F. Seidler, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Sea Control 42 – Asian-Pacific Fighters in Iraq and Syria

It is well known that fighters, especially from US-America and Europe, are participating in the war in Syria and in the violence in Iraq and Yemen. Today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder expressed is concern about fighters from Europe and the United States. U.S. intelligence agencies estimate around 7,000 of the 23,000 violent extremists operating in Syria are foreign fighters, mostly from Europe. (Timothy Gardner, “U.S. concerned foreign fighters in Syria are working with Yemenis“, Reuters, 13.07.2014). But the US and Europe are not alone with this problem: in Syria, there could be 60 to 200 fighters from Australia (“ICSR Insight: Up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria; steep rise among Western Europeans“, The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, 17.12.2013) and another 200 fighters from Indonesia (Phillip Coorey “Syria war graduates bigger threat than 2001 attacks, says Abbott“, The Australian Financial Review, 10.06.2014).

This episode of Sea Control turns its focus to foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), interviews Andrew Zammit, a researcher at Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre (GTReC), and Levi West, a lecturer in terrorism and National Security and course coordinator for Masters of Terrorism & Security Studies at Charles Sturt University. Both guests discuss the ways in which foreign fighters returning from the Middle East impact on Australian and regional security and on the global jihadist movement. Both Andrew and Levi also discuss the role of social media.

Listen to episode #42 immediately

Latest: Episode #42 – Archive: all episodes – Don’t miss any future episodes and subscribe on iTunes.

• • •

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, English, Sea Control, Security Policy, Terrorism | Leave a comment

South American Troops Take On The Violent Work of Peacekeeping

Chilean peacekeepers in Haiti. UN photo/

Chilean peacekeepers in Haiti. UN photo

by Kevin Knodell. Kevin Knodell is a freelance writer and photographer who contributes regularly at War is Boring. His work has also appeared in  RAGEMAG, Michael Yon’s Frontline Forum, The Tacoma News Tribune, and others. You can follow him on twitter at @KJKnodell

Last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it would be partnering with the Chilean government through its Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) to fund peacekeeping operations. Chile is home to the Chilean Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center (CECOPAC) in Santiago, which trains Chilean troops and those from neighboring countries in Peacekeeping techniques.

Troops from Central and South American countries have in recent years been heavily active in peacekeeping operations, with Chile and Brazil among the most active participants. They’ve been active in regional operations like the ongoing peacekeeping mission in Haiti, as well as internationally from the Middle East to Africa. Particularly for Brazil, it’s an opportunity to assert itself on the global stage as a rising power.

But they’ve learned that peacekeeping is challenging work. Often, these missions have been mired in vague mandates, unforeseen challenges and controversy. They’ve also often been called to take on missions that fall outside of the traditional parameters of peacekeeping.

Brazilian and Jordanian peacekeepers patrol a slum in Haiti. U.N. Photo

Brazilian and Jordanian peacekeepers patrol a slum in Haiti. U.N. Photo

Gangs, Floods and Earthquakes in Haiti
In 2004, Haiti’s first democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by a coup. The country, already plagued by poverty and gang violence was plunged into further chaos. A small force of American, French, Canadian, and Chilean troops landed in the country to restore relative order. They would soon be replaced by a UN force, the United Nations Stabilisation Mission In Haiti, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH.

MINUSTAH would be primarily lead and manned by Brazilian troops, backed up by Argentina, Chile, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and Uruguay. At its onset, it was beset by controversy. Aristride has heavily criticized the mission as being part of a conspiracy to suppress his supporters and stomp on the Haitian people’s aspirations. Aristride’s detractors claim that the democratically elected leader had developed despotic tendencies, and had won the 2003 election through fraudulent means. Aristride was previously overthrown in the 1990s, after which the U.S. and U.N. sent troops to help reinstate him as part of Operation Uphold Democracy.

MINUSTAH is the first U.N. peacekeeping operation authorized in the absence of any peace agreement to enforce. Rather, MINUSTAH was tasked more vaguely with combating heavily armed gangs and drug traffickers that had become prevalent in Haiti’s slums. Brazilian troops went into slums armed with more hardware than your average peacekeepers. They had full loads of assault rifles, shotguns, explosives and sidearms.

Brazilian troops take positions during an operation in a Haitian slum. U.N. photo

Brazilian troops take positions during an operation in a Haitian slum. U.N. photo

Some rights groups allege peacekeepers have allowed and even of participated in extra-judicial killings by the Haitian National Police. They’ve also been accused of targeting neighborhoods where support for Aristride is widespread, using gangs and drugs as a pretense for political suppression.

A particularly controversial raid took place in Cité Soleil on July 6, 2005 in which peacekeepers killed Dread Wilme. Depending on who you ask, Wilme was either a ruthless gangster or a committed community leader. Estimates of those killed vary wildly from as low as 5 to as high as 80 depending on the source.

By September 2005, MINUSTAH force commander Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira had resigned. “We are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence,” he told a congressional commission in his home country, citing Canada, France, and the United States. His replacement, Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar was found dead at his hotel on January 7 2006 of apparent suicide. Wikileaks would later reveal that officials from the Dominican Republic suspected that the suicide was actually an assassination masterminded by anti-Aristride activist Guy Phillipe, who believed the Bacellar wasn’t being aggressive enough. Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate, himself accused of complicity in assassinations while serving the Pinochet regime, acted as the interim commander before another Brazilian general was put in charge.

Brazilian peacekeepers evacuate flooding victims after after tropical storm Noel in 2007. U.N. photo

Brazilian peacekeepers evacuate flooding victims after after tropical storm Noel in 2007. U.N. photo

Gangs have been be just one of many adversaries MINUSTAH has come across. Man’s oldest foe, nature, has also proven formidable. Disaster relief and humanitarian assistance have often been a critical mission for peacekeepers. Heavy flooding and hurricanes kept peacekeepers busy during 2008 in particular, as troops and police evacuated people and distributed aid. But perhaps the greatest test was the January 2010 earthquake that rocked the country and killed more than 100,000 people. Several peacekeepers were killed in the earthquake along with MINUSTAH’s political head, seasoned Tunisian diplomat Hédi Annabi, when his office collapsed. The resulting chaos and the humanitarian crisis stretched U.N. troops thin. American troops were temporarily deployed to aid them in relief efforts. After the earthquake, MINUSTAH renewed its mandate, once again inviting mixed reactions as the move was simultaneously welcomed and protested both in Haiti and around the world. MINUSTAH continues to operate and conduct regular patrols. Despite controversy and leadership struggles, gang violence in the capital has decreased significantly. But the aggressive security operations have not been matched by development. Economic growth has been stagnant, and political progress a challenge.

Uruguayan peacekeepers patrol a Congolese town, December 2013. U.N. photo

Uruguayan peacekeepers patrol a Congolese village, December 2013. U.N. photo

Hunting Rebels in the Congo
Last spring, Brazilian Lt. Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz was appointed the head of The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO). He previously served as force commander of MINUSTAH from January 2007-April 2009. South and Central American peacekeepers have already been heavily involved in U.N. operations in the Congo. Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay all contribute troops. They’ve been present for some of the most intense fighting peacekeepers in the country have seen, and at times, have been at the fore front of operations. Like MINUSTAH, some of these operations have been aggressive – and controversial.

In 2006, a group of 80 Guatemalan special forces troops launched an operation into eastern Garamba National Park near the border with Sudan in what was officially called a “reconnaissance patrol” afterword. In reality, the operation was a U.N. sanctioned raid to capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) deputy commander Vincent Otti.

Guatemalan commandos act as an escort for a visit by U.S. AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter. F Ham's in 2011. U.N. photo

Guatemalan commandos act as an escort for a visit by U.S. AFRICOM commander Gen. Carter. F Ham’s in 2011. U.N. photo

The raid went badly. LRA defenses were far more organized and alert than intelligence had suggested. A four hour firefight ensued, and the Guatemalans called in attack helicopters for air support. The LRA killed eight Guatemalan commandos, who in turn managed to kill 15 rebels. Otti lived to fight another day.

As details emerged, diplomats were split on the raid. Few bought the cover story about patrol. The large number of special forces troops made it obvious that it was an offensive operation. Some in the U.N. felt that an offensive operation was a dangerous escalation of a fragile situation, and a grossly inappropriate move for the ostensibly neutral world body. Others saw it as a bold and welcome move, arguing that while the LRA continue to operate, they will be nothing but a hinderance to the peace process and a menace to civilians.

Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz inspects Congolese troops as they prepare to attack a rebel stronghold, April 2014. U.N. photo

Lt. Gen. Santos Cruz inspects Congolese troops as they prepare to attack a rebel held town, April 2014. U.N. photo

“Yes, there will be lots of questions asked about what they (the Guatemalans) were doing. And yes, very few people knew about it,” a U.N. official told Reuters reporters. “But any mission like this needs to be secret for operational security.”

Under Santos Cruz’s leadership, once again under international pressure for results, MONUSOC has continued to be more aggressive. In September, U. N. troops backed the Congolese Army in a major operation against the Rwandan backed M23 rebel group. This aggressive streak has continued, as Cruz regularly travels to the frontline with both peacekeepers and Congolese troops.

As the face of peacekeeping changes, more and more money will be spent on training peacekeepers. They’ll have to learn new techniques, and new strategies. But if the experience of South American peacekeepers in the last decade has shown anything, it’s that peacekeeping is often like any other military operation: violent and unpredictable.

Posted in Armed Forces, DR Congo, English, Haiti, International, Kevin Knodell, Peacekeeping | Leave a comment

Jung & Naiv: diese Schweiz …

Im Rahmen seiner unterhaltsamen aber trotzdem lehrreichen Serie “Jung & Naiv” bespricht Tilo Jung mit Christof Moser, Politikerreporter für “Schweiz am Sonntag” und Redaktionsleiter von www.infosperber.ch ein Interview über die Schweiz. Dabei geht es um die grundlegenden Dinge der Schweiz: Seit wann ist die Schweiz eine Demokratie? Seit wann ist sie “neutral”? Warum ist die Schweiz nicht in der EU, in der NATO, aber dafür im Vatikan vertreten? Warum wechselst jedes Jahr der Bundespräsident? Was geht politisch in der Schweiz? Wie funktioniert das Regieren? Alle diese Fragen werden im aktuellen politischen Kontext im Hintergrund von kürzlich durchgeführten oder kommenden Volksabstimmungen, der Snowden-Affäre und deren Auswirkungen besprochen.

Posted in Politics in General | Leave a comment

Talking to Boko Haram

by Sandra Ivanov. Sandra Ivanov is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently an editor of the blog “Conflict and Security“, and primarily works in the non-government sector. You can find her through Linkedin or follow her updates on Twitter.

Man claiming to be leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, in video screengrab, unknown location, Sept. 25, 2013.

Man claiming to be leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, in video screengrab, unknown location, Sept. 25, 2013.

Recently, a non-state armed group in Nigeria called Boko Haram has been brought to the forefront by Western media. Through a worldwide “hashtag campaign” on Twitter, attention has been drawn to the kidnappings of over 200 school girls in the Borno State. Public outrage and international condemnation has led to the United Nations applying sanctions, and adding the group to their proscribed list of “terrorist organisations”. But, could this be hindering chances of dialogue between the government of Nigeria and Boko Haram? So far, military offenses have been undertaken, but how long until it is realised that violence against violence is not an effective means to address grievances? Dialogue needs to be the action taken if the world really wants to “bring back our girls” and look deeply into the causes of the crisis.

Boko who?
The Boko Haram movement goes back to the early 2000s, propagated by spiritual leader and preacher, Mohammed Yusuf. In the early days, the group was referred to as the “Nigerian Taliban”, wanting to withdraw from the secular state of Nigeria, and form a society based on Islamic Sharia law. Initially, the movement sought to overthrow the government through a doctrine of withdrawal, and not through violence. However, radicalisation was spurred by clashes with government security forces, including pervasive police brutality. The followers of Boko Haram consist of university students, clerics and professionals, many of whom are unemployed.

The movement was eventually renamed to “Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad” (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), and it was domestic and foreign media which popularised the name Boko Haram, a phrase interpreted to mean “Western education is sinful”. In a statement by Boko Haram, they revealed their beliefs and intentions:

We will not allow the Nigerian Constitution to replace the laws that have been enshrined in the Holy Qur’an, we will not allow adulterated conventional education (Boko) to replace Islamic teachings. We will not respect the Nigerian government because it is illegal. We will continue to fight its military and the police because they are not protecting Islam. — Boko Haram statement stated in Human Rights Watch, “Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria“, October 2012.

Clashes which occurred in July 2009 were a significant turning point, and cemented Boko Haram’s choice to use violent tactics to achieve their aims. Targeted killings by Boko Haram, and extrajudicial killings of detainees of members by security forces, were a prelude to what would end up being a brutal massacre of more than 800 people in Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, and Kano states. Yusuf was killed in police custody, and Abubakar Shekau succeeded him. In the aftermath of crushing Boko Haram, security forces tore down mosques, and properties were demolished or seized from those suspected to be part of Boko Haram, as well as of relatives of any members – it was a strategy attempting to wipe out their physical presence in order for them to be forgotten.

A local journalist at the time reflected on the situation saying that the 2009 violence was seen to be bubbling in the weeks beforehand, noting a failure of security and intelligence forces to monitor and act early. Government inaction has seen the movement grow stronger and stronger.

The current situation
Since Abubakar Shekau took leadership of the group, Boko Haram is no longer monolithic – there are at least two organisations operating alongside each other: a larger organisation focused on discrediting the government, and a smaller one becoming more sophisticated, but also more lethal in their actions. Boko Haram’s objectives also expanded after Yusuf’s death to include prosecution of those who killed their leaders, release of members in police custody, compensation for the families of dead members, and rebuilding their mosques and schools. Since 2010, they have taken up violent methods to attempt to achieve these goals, including bombings, shoot-and-run attacks, arsons, robberies, and more recently in the media, abductions.

A police officer walks past shops destroyed in a suicide car bomb attack at the entrance to the Bompai police barracks near the police headquarters in the city of Kano. At least 185 people were killed during coordinated attacks by Boko Haram members on police facilities in the city on January 20, 2012.

A police officer walks past shops destroyed in a suicide car bomb attack at the entrance to the Bompai police barracks near the police headquarters in the city of Kano. At least 185 people were killed during coordinated attacks by Boko Haram members on police facilities in the city on January 20, 2012.

Protests, petitions and social media campaigns helped spread the awareness of the kidnapping of over 200 school girls by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in April 2014. Widespread public pressure called for action – and the international community did indeed respond. The United States gave experts, resources, and defence personnel, and the United Kingdom sent an aircraft and government experts. Other states have also expressed their willingness to assist Nigeria. Most notably, however, is the United Nations’ blacklisting of Boko Haram and imposing sanctions on them as suspicions linger that they are linked to al-Qaeda. But it is not verified that Boko Haram is involved with al-Qaeda, all evidence has so far been unsubstantiated and remains anecdotal.

Nigeria has had previous interaction with Boko Haram, Borno state officials tried to reach out to the group in 2011 where a negotiated settlement was a possibility. Nevertheless, the situation has changed – having the UN listing the group as official terrorists, and with states such as the US who are leading the so called “War on Terror” aiding Nigeria’s search for the group and girls, the chances of talking to Boko Haram have suddenly reduced. Being branded as terrorists, Boko Haram may radicalise even further because it has cast them in a non-negotiable category, ignoring attempts to examine how the group has emerged and understanding their grievances.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

Southern residents tend to have better access to healthcare, as reflected by the greater uptake of vaccines for polio, tuberculosis, tetanus and diphtheria. Some northern groups have in the past boycotted immunisation programmes, saying they are a Western plot to make Muslim women infertile. This led to a recurrence of polio, but the vaccinations have now resumed.

A global issue?
Boko Haram has made out to be a global terrorist threat, but the tensions have boiled inside Nigeria. The group is concerned with the country’s internal dialogue within Islam, in northern Nigeria, and as a consequence of socio-economic and political imbalances. Many living in northern Nigeria have lost faith in their institutions and their leaders, as well as being deprived of basic infrastructure and reliable electricity and roads. The north is considered relatively backward in comparison to south of Nigeria – disproportionate educational development, wealth distribution, and corruption, are contributing factors to the desire for a rebirth of fundamentalist Islam in the region. The state security forces have also contributed to the tensions in the region as they have been accused of abuses which include the killing of civilians, the burning of homes, and summary executions.

Dialogue first
“We do not negotiate with terrorists” is the famous phrase uttered by states, but it’s important to distinguish between “dialogue” and “negotiation”. Negotiation comes in the form of a formal peace process, usually with the means to resolve a tension, and the parties both have to make compromises to achieve a resolution. Dialogue is different; it comes before negotiation, and does not have to lead into a formal process at all. This form of talking is beneficial to unmask the identity of an armed group, to understand grievances, and to reveal root causes of tensions.

At this point, it is important to consider that terrorist tactics used by a group should be seen as a form of political communication – an intentional and pre-determined strategy of political violence which is intended to cause fear and intimidate its audience. Through these methods, armed groups are grabbing the attention of those in power to respond – but this is where those in power can make a choice: violence or non-violence, arms or dialogue. So far, Nigeria has attempted to supress the movement by military and police force, but once this fails, they will eventually have to consider some form of political engagement. The more Boko Haram engages with state security forces, the stronger the intrusive nature of the state in the internal dialogue among fundamentalist Islamic groups is perceived, fuelling the cycle of violence further.

There is definite potential for the Nigerian government to engage in dialogue – Boko Haram, in academic terms, could be classified as “contingent terrorists” – a group which actively seeks to negotiate as part of their strategy. In the case of the recent kidnapping, they claim that nothing will happen to the girls as long as the government releases their group members from prison. Once there is something tangible to bargain for, it is easier to enter talks.

Nigeria’s reluctance to engage and possible pitfalls
When deciding to open dialogue with a group, there will always be potential risks. The Nigerian government may sense that engaging in talks will be perceived as legitimising the group and their actions. It may also risk side-lining other groups with more moderate views who have been using peaceful means to voice their concerns, and a group may splinter and divide because of this engagement.

Boko Haram has attacked many schools in northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram has attacked many schools in northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram, like other non-state armed groups usually comprise of loosely linked networks, and have splinter groups which make it difficult for the government to know who to interact with. Another hurdle the government will need to overcome is that dialogue will not be able to take place over Boko Haram’s aim to create a state built on Sharia law. The government would be breaching the Nigerian constitution if it makes any attempt of interfering in the internal changes within any religious group, as all groups are at liberty to direct their own affairs. Any attempt to change religious ideology can only be credibly left to Islamic spiritual leaders and clerics. This has already been a suggestion, to reach out to moderates and clerics who can engage with Islamists intellectually to deconstruct their radical views about Islam.

Dialogue, can however occur around concerns over excessive brutality, and provide talks on how to limit violence by both sides. The state can also address grievances over Boko Haram members currently in prisons – Nigeria has the responsibility to bring these members to trial and punish them accordingly, if there happens to be members kept in prisons without trial it can cause further injustice.

The Nigerian government also has to be genuinely willing to engage with Boko Haram. The government has previously been accused by the group for being deceptive, by opening calls for dialogue and arresting members instead. An intermediary between Boko Haram and the government also decided to quit his role because the government was insincere.

There are opportunities to create channels for dialogue which are informal and non-commital to promote understanding and find common ground. Dialogue is a significant mechanism for accountability and justice, especially for the victims of Boko Haram’s actions. Boko Haram has chosen to use terrorist tactics to achieve their aims, but can choose to use non-violent alternatives if they can see the strength and success in them. Through experience and observation of previous armed groups, it has prompted them to choose violence. If the government can make creative open channels for grievances, and methods to genuinely listen to groups such as Boko Haram, violence may be discarded as an option for groups to pursue their aims. Opening up opportunities for dialogue may also prevent other groups in the region from taking up arms in the future.

In the end, the international community may assist in the search for these girls, but ultimately, this is a local problem and Nigeria will have to resolve it. International pressure, however, may be a positive catalyst for Nigeria to begin to address the root causes which encompass the grievances of groups such as Boko Haram. Nevertheless, what should not be forgotten is that talking should not be a consideration, it should be the first action. Dialogue is simply a conversation and it can always stop. Listening and talking to a group does not mean their claims and methods are legitimate or are being endorsed, and that needs to be understood from the outset. There will always be risks involved when engaging, but these risks can be mitigated. It is difficult to see how the girls will be rescued through the use of force – engagement is necessary to bring them back safely, and to understand long standing tensions.

More information
Patrick Truffer, “The softening of Hamas – Moderation through political participation“, offiziere.ch, 23.01.2012.

Posted in English, Nigeria, Sandra Ivanov, Security Policy, Terrorism | 1 Comment