As NATO allies unite against ISIS, it’s time for the U.S. to talk to the PKK

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration accelerated efforts Friday to build an international coalition to combat the Islamic State, winning pledges of support from nine allies but leaving questions about the extent of possible expanded military force.

The United States has waged a series of airstrikes seeking to slow the advance of the Islamic State in northern Iraq and bolster the defenses of Western-allied fighters in the Iraq’s nearby Kurdish region.

But Washington is now eager to broaden the military and diplomatic pressures on the group, which has drawn international condemnation for sending non-Muslim minorities fleeing in fear and waging bloodshed such as mass killings and the beheadings of two American journalists.

The 10-nation alliance, forged at a NATO summit in Wales, could raise worries about deepening Western military engagement in the region nearly three years after the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel used the NATO forum to hold meetings with foreign and defense ministers from nine countries: Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark.

The leaders described themselves as the core of an emerging coalition to counter the Islamic State, although they downplayed the prospect of imminent joint military action. They also left unsaid whether they were planning to attack Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria or limit their mission to Iraq. [Continue reading...]

The New York Times adds this tough-talk from Kerry: “There is no containment policy for ISIL,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the beginning of the meeting, using an alternate acronym for ISIS. “They’re an ambitious, avowed, genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring quasi state with an irregular army, and leaving them in some capacity intact anywhere would leave a cancer in place that will ultimately come back to haunt us.”

So even though the text of the statement issued by the State Department makes no mention of attacking ISIS in Syria, that’s part of the plan — right?

It’s widely recognized that the most effective force fighting against ISIS is the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the branch of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) based in Rojava, Syrian Kurdistan.

When the U.S. claimed success in rescuing thousands of Yazidis trapped on Mount Sinjar, it was YPG fighters on the ground who played the crucial role in creating a safe corridor.

In building its international coalition to fight ISIS, the U.S. will naturally want the support of as many allies as possible, yet what could be the most productive alliance of all — with the PKK — will remain hamstrung unless Washington grows up and ditches its childish anti-terrorism fundamentalism and quickly de-lists the PKK as a so-called terrorist organization.

Not only is this particular designation unwarranted — as Henri Barkey points out, the U.S. should be willing to talk to the PKK when the PKK’s chief adversary, Turkey, is already doing so — but the whole idea of designating organizations and individuals as terrorists is itself an insult to the rule of law. Such labeling functions as a political tool used without much more subtlety than the Catholic church’s practice of branding heretics at the time of the inquisition. Democracy, however, only allows for the designation of illegal actions — not illegal opinions or affiliations.

The necessity of fighting ISIS has arisen not because it promotes a diabolical ideology; it derives from the fact that the members of ISIS are engaging in genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

facebooktwittermail

Unappealing as nation-building may be, the alternative is usually even worse

Suzanne Nossel writes: Obama had good reason to be wary of nation-building [in Libya], having spent a good part of his presidency trying to unwind commitments George W. Bush made to Afghanistan and Iraq. But he now finds himself caught in a dilemma. On one hand, rebuilding failed states and conflict-torn societies is expensive, dangerous, unpredictable, open-ended, and painstakingly slow. Rather than thanks, an assertive approach can elicit debilitating and deadly political backlash. Because of its intense and sustained involvement, the nation-builder is held morally and politically accountable for the consequences of its efforts — even more so than the government that strafes a country from 30,000 feet. At least so far, as bad as the crisis in Libya is, international blame isn’t being pinned on Washington. On the other hand, failure to stabilize a nation after a debilitating war can undermine even the most decisive military action. Bad actors may be removed from authority, but the power vacuums, rivalries, corruption, incompetence, and dysfunction they leave behind can be as dangerous, if not more so. Terrorists and spoilers can encroach on weakly governed and poorly secured territory. Neighbors can jump into the fray, sparking regional conflagrations.

The nation-builder’s dilemma is not new. Failure to restore a beleaguered Germany after World War I arguably sowed the seeds of World War II. The massive investments of the Marshall Plan were designed to avoid a repeat, and they benefited from underlying political, economic, and institutional strengths in Japan and Germany. International military engagements in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, and South Sudan were all followed by contested nation-building engagements, most of which continue in some form to this day.

The paradox of distaste for nation-building and the imperative to nation-build should prompt long-term strategic thinking about how to get done what no single government wants to do. Three principles can help: burden sharing; creative alignments of capabilities and political credibility; and greater attention to how international post-conflict missions can build national pride and smooth the path to full sovereignty for nations in transition.

Sharing the burdens of rebuilding a war-torn nation is often best achieved through the United Nations, which currently has more than 118,000 personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations in 16 countries, alongside another 10 political missions that don’t involve military forces. U.N. peacekeeping and related missions have played an indispensable role in midwifing relative political stability in Guatemala, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Namibia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But in Libya, there was no U.N. peacekeeping mission after Qaddafi’s ouster — only a small, unsecured stabilization effort. Cost concerns raised by Britain and France, coupled with the Libyans’ own reticence, scuttled early talk of a more ambitious U.N. presence. This understaffed operation was woefully unable to tackle Libya’s most serious security challenges, struggling instead to keep its own personnel out of danger. As discussions about an expanded U.N. presence in Libya now get underway, it’s worth recognizing that wherever the next stabilization operation occurs — eastern Ukraine, Syria — the United Nations’ role is unique and essential and should be adequately funded, equipped, and thought out ahead of time. It is hard to fathom any solution to the White House’s nation-building dilemma that doesn’t begin at U.N. headquarters in New York. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

The unfolding Ukraine crisis signals a new world order

Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Russia, writes: A way out of the Ukraine crisis may now be faintly discernible. The round-table negotiations promoted by the Germans has the support of all the key governments. It is intended to produce a ceasefire, discussion of future Ukrainian constitutional arrangements, and the election of a new Ukrainian president on 25 May. There are still all sorts of ways it could go wrong: the east Ukrainian dissidents are not yet involved and will need to be; and polarisation continues, with both sides gradually losing control of their thuggish surrogates. But things now look marginally more hopeful than they have since the ill-fated Geneva agreement of a month ago.

The west has had to learn some hard lessons to get to where we are now.

It is generally accepted that the EU (in a mode splendidly described by one commentator as of “impotent megalomania”) precipitated matters by blundering into the most sensitive part of Russia’s backyard without seriously asking itself how it might react. This was not an isolated error but the culmination of 20 years of the west simply not taking Russia seriously, most notably with the Kosovo war and the expansion of Nato. When Russia did react in the (legally indefensible, but historically understandable) form of annexing Crimea and destabilising east Ukraine, the western view then swung 180 degrees to focusing on the need to “contain” a revanchist Russia intent on rebuilding the Soviet Union.

In the absence of any willingness among western publics to fight for the independence of Simferopol, the only weapon available was sanctions. These allowed western leaders to claim they were “doing something”, but in fact cruelly exposed their unwillingness to take real economic pain on Ukraine’s behalf. They have also become something of a badge of patriotic pride for those Russians targeted by them – of the six uses of sanctions by the west against the USSR/Russia since the second world war none have worked.

Happily, we now seem to be waking up to the reality that we are dealing not with a revanchist Russia, but with a coldly calculating one – a Russia that is neither patsy nor praying mantis. They don’t want to fight a war or take on the economic burden of rebuilding eastern Ukraine, but they do have a minimal list of requirements – Ukrainian neutrality, more autonomy for Russian speakers – which have to be met before they will back off. [Continue reading...]

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered troops deployed near Ukraine to return to their home bases and praised the launch of a dialogue between the Ukrainian government and its opponents even as fighting continued in the eastern parts of the country.

facebooktwittermail

NATO official: Russia now an adversary

The Associated Press reports: After two decades of trying to build a partnership with Russia, NATO now feels compelled to start treating Moscow as an adversary, the alliance’s second-ranking official said Thursday.

“Clearly the Russians have declared NATO as an adversary, so we have to begin to view Russia no longer as a partner but as more of an adversary than a partner,” said Alexander Vershbow, the deputy secretary-general of NATO.

In a question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters, Vershbow said Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its apparent manipulation of unrest in eastern Ukraine have fundamentally changed the NATO-Russia relationship.

“In central Europe, clearly we have two different visions of what European security should be like,” Vershbow, a former U.S. diplomat and onetime Pentagon official, said. “We still would defend the sovereignty and freedom of choice of Russia’s neighbors, and Russia clearly is trying to re-impose hegemony and limit their sovereignty under the guise of a defense of the Russian world.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Ukraine tension turns deadly in ‘worst case scenario’

Bloomberg reports: Ukrainian security forces battled pro-Russian gunmen in the eastern town of Slovyansk, with both sides suffering casualties, in what European Union member Poland called “the worst-case scenario” for the country.

A day after Ukrainian officials accused Russia of “external aggression,” camouflaged gunmen fired on units deployed by the government in Kiev in an anti-terror operation near Slovyansk, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the Russian frontier, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said today on Facebook. One serviceman was killed and five were wounded, with an unknown number of dead on the separatist side, he said.

It followed the takeover of a regional police station in Donetsk yesterday and gun battles in which police stopped separatists from seizing buildings in other towns. The events echoed those that preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea, rattling Ukraine’s industrial heartland and raising concern that Russia may carve off more of Ukraine with what NATO has estimated are 40,000 combat-ready troops massed on the border.

“Over the past few hours we’ve witnessed the worst-case scenario playing out in Ukraine,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has advocated a strong response to Russia, said in an interview with Radio Zet in Warsaw.

The anti-terror operation began after acting President Oleksandr Turchynov called an emergency meeting of the country’s National Defense and Security Council last night.

“Please let all civilians know to vacate the center of town, to not leave their apartments and to stay away from windows,” Avakov posted on his Facebook account. “Separatists have opened fire on approaching special-forces units.”

One person was killed an nine were wounded, news service Interfax reported, without giving details on which side the casualties came from. Russian state-run Rossiya 24 TV said Ukrainian “self-defense” forces led by an Afghan War veteran had spread across Slovyansk and troops allied to the government in Kiev arrived in armored personnel carriers and by helicopter.

Intelligence reports from the U.S. and its allies indicate that some of the pro-Russian demonstrators infiltrated cities in eastern and southern Ukraine during the past month or even earlier as part of a Russian plan to divide Ukraine into federated regions, some of which may hold referendums to rejoin Russia, as Crimea did, two U.S. officials said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the reports, which they stressed aren’t conclusive, the officials said that the assessment continues to be that Russian President Vladimir Putin prefers using a campaign of provocation, propaganda, bribery and subversion — rather than an outright invasion by Russian troops — to take over some of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine. [Continue reading...]

The Wall Street Journal reports: Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said the appearance of heavily armed men in unmarked uniforms drew alarming parallels to the takeover of Crimea by Russian troops last month ahead of a referendum for the region to secede from Ukraine and Russia’s annexing the territory.

“The reappearance of men with specialized Russian weapons and identical uniforms without insignia, as previously worn by Russian troops during Russia’s illegal and illegitimate seizure of Crimea, is a grave development,” he said. “I call on Russia to de-escalate the crisis and pull back its large number of troops, including special forces, from the area around Ukraine’s border.”

On Saturday, the White House said it warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against using the clashes in Ukraine’s east as a pretext for seizing more territory. Moscow says it reserves the right to send troops into eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians there from an alleged threat of violence against them from nationalists in the Ukrainian government, although Russia has presented little concrete evidence such a threat exists. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.S. troops may be sent to Eastern Europe

The Associated Press reports: NATO’s top military commander in Europe, drafting countermoves to the Russian military threat against Ukraine, said Wednesday they could include deployment of American troops to alliance member states in Eastern Europe now feeling at risk.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told The Associated Press he wouldn’t “write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States.”

Foreign ministers of the 28-nation alliance have given Breedlove until Tuesday to propose steps to reassure NATO members nearest Russia that other alliance countries have their back.

“Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies,” Breedlove told the AP. “I’m tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early.”

Asked again if American soldiers might be sent to NATO’s front-line states closest to Russia, the four-star U.S. general said, “I would not write off contributions from any nation.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Why Crimea matters

Mark Leonard writes: “We have spent thirty years trying to integrate Russia into the international system, and now we are trying to kick it out again.”

These words — from a senior British official — sum up the disappointment and bewilderment of western diplomats struggling to handle Russia. They face two imperfect options: inaction in the face of Russia’s territorial aggression, and reacting so strongly that they unravel the international system that has sustained order for the last five decades.

As pro-Russian protesters declare a “people’s republic” in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, Western leaders are smart to focus on deterring Putin from expanding beyond Crimea. But the West needs to think more about how its actions are seen beyond the Kremlin. The consequences of Crimea could be even more dramatic at a global level than within the post-Soviet countries.

In his March 18 speech, Putin expressed three ideas that Europeans have rejected since World War Two — nationalism that is not tempered by the guilt of war; identity defined by ethnicity, rather than geography or institutions; and social conservatism based in religion.

Yet these ideas remain popular outside the West. Just look at the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia are both defending their “people” across borders. China may one day want to defend its citizens overseas, in the same way that Putin sees himself as the defender of ethnic Russians. If other countries view Russia’s actions as cost-free, they could carry out copy-cat incursions.

America’s allies could also react in worrying ways if they lose trust in western deterrence. I recently spoke to well-connected military strategists in Tokyo and Seoul, who were disappointed by the West’s reaction to Russian expansionism. They predicted that within Japan and South Korea, security hawks might call for nuclear weapons as a hedge against American withdrawal from the world.

But if the West’s attempts to preserve its credibility are too clumsy, they could also lead to disorder — in particular, if the West throws Russia out of the global economy and the institutions that govern it. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

NATO says Russia has big force at Ukraine’s border, worries over Transdniestria

n13-iconReuters reports: NATO’s top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border and said he was worried it could pose a threat to Moldova’s mainly Russian-speaking separatist Transdniestria region.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, voiced concern about Moscow using a tactic of snap military exercises to prepare its forces for possible rapid incursions into a neighboring state, as it had done in the case of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Russia launched a new military exercise, involving 8,500 artillery men, near Ukraine’s border 10 days ago.

“The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready,” Breedlove told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank.

The president of ex-Soviet Moldova warned Russia last Tuesday against considering any move to annex Transdniestria, which lies on Ukraine’s western border, in the same way that it has taken control of Crimea. [Continue reading...]

Daniel Berman argues: Transnistria may well wish for annexation for Russia, but the likelihood of Russia acting on that request depends on a calculation of its future relationship with Kiev, and portents bode ill. The Russian annexation of Crimea has alienated Ukrainian opinion while removing one of the major reserves of Pro-Russian votes in Ukrainian elections. Any further annexations in the East will only exacerbate that problem and reinforce that lack of influence in Kiev. Moscow may be able to extract concessions, geopolitical neutrality, and Finlandization from Kiev, but those will be extracted by force, either economic or military. It is unlikely the Ukraine will see a genuinely Pro-Russian government for a generation.

Mike Giglio reports from eastern Ukraine: Uncertainty about Russia’s intentions looms in Kharkiv, and several residents put the chances of invasion at “50-50.” Fears that an invasion is imminent, though, have gradually eased since last week’s referendum in Crimea. And activists on both sides stressed that support for Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine is considerably less than it was in Crimea, where Russian troops faced little resistance. Many expected locals and Ukrainian troops alike to fight back if Russia tried to move in. “You can’t compare this to Crimea,” said Andrei Borodavka, a Kharkiv journalist and pro-Russia activist. “The Russians don’t want to kill Ukrainians or Ukrainian soldiers.”

Borodavka said he thought Russia would intervene only in the case of persistent violence — and on a far larger scale than the shootings that took place in Kharkiv on March 14, however much they may have jarred residents here.

Yet on the highways around Kharkiv, military vehicles could be seen making their way to the border, as the Kiev government moved to shore up its forces there. They would be little match for the Russians — in one glaring sign of the Ukrainian army’s weakness, Kharkiv activists were regularly delivering food and blankets to the under-supplied troops. Yet the army seemed determined at least not to be caught off guard.

facebooktwittermail

Poland speeds up missile defence plan amid Ukraine crisis

n13-iconReuters reports: Poland has decided to speed up its tender for a missile defence system, the Defence Ministry said, in a sign of Warsaw’s disquiet over the tension between neighbouring Ukraine and Russia.

“By the end of this year we want to already have chosen an offer. That is the acceleration by several months, compared to our original plans, that we are talking about,” Czeslaw Mroczek, Deputy Defence Minister, told Reuters.

The NATO member had planned to determine the supplier of its missile defence system in 2015, but the crisis in Ukraine and concerns about Russia’s annexation of Crimea have prompted officials to speed up the timetable.

There are four bidders: France’s Thales, in a consortium with European group MBDA and the Polish state defence group; the Israeli government; Raytheon of the United States; and the MEADS consortium led by Lockheed Martin.

One of the bidders, MEADS, said the tender was worth about $5 billion (3 billion pounds), but experts say the whole missile defence system could be worth as much as 40 billion zlotys (7 billion pounds), including maintenance costs. It is to be completed by the end of 2022.

Mroczek said the decision to accelerate the process was partly caused by Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Ukraine crisis: Six reasons why U.S. use of military forces is unthinkable

o13-iconLoren Thompson writes: The interim prime minister of Ukraine was in Washington this week, and according to the New York Times, he was asking just one thing of U.S. leaders. He said as a signatory to a 1994 treaty guaranteeing the security of Ukraine, America “must defend our independent, sovereign state.” Some members of Congress sound like they agree, especially Republicans who are using Washington’s slow response to Russian occupation of the Crimea as the latest evidence that President Obama is weak when it comes to dealing with America’s enemies.

If Obama looks weak, it is mainly because he sees the danger of decisive action in a place that matters far more to Russia than America. Over the last two decades, the United States has gotten used to fighting enemies with modest military capabilities and crackpot leaders, but Russia is a much more imposing player. If Washington somehow stumbled into a military confrontation with Moscow, the U.S. would probably lose and in the process run huge risks to its larger interests.

Most Americans seem to understand this — a CNN poll this week found three-quarters of respondents opposed to even giving military aid to Kiev, with far fewer backing use of U.S. forces. Nonetheless, some hardliners seem to think America’s military might play a role in forcing Russian leader Vladimir Putin to back away from what they see as a return to the expansionist foreign policies of the Cold War era. Here are six reasons why using U.S. military power in the current crisis would be a strategic miscalculation of epic proportions. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Russia and the West are tearing Ukraine apart. Both sides must stand down now or face the consequences

a13-iconAnatol Lieven writes: If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago, it is that the country’s population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. Every election victory for one side or another has been by a narrow margin, and has subsequently been reversed by an electoral victory for an opposing coalition.

What has saved the country until recently has been the existence of a certain middle ground of Ukrainians sharing elements of both positions; that the division in consequence was not clear cut; and that the West and Russia generally refrained from forcing Ukrainians to make a clear choice between these positions.

During George W. Bush’s second term as president, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries made a morally criminal attempt to force this choice by the offer of a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine (despite the fact that repeated opinion polls had shown around two-thirds of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership). French and German opposition delayed this ill-advised gambit, and after August 2008, it was quietly abandoned. The Georgian-Russian war in that month had made clear both the extreme dangers of further NATO expansion, and that the United States would not in fact fight to defend its allies in the former Soviet Union.

In the two decades after the collapse of the USSR, it should have become obvious that neither West nor Russia had reliable allies in Ukraine. As the demonstrations in Kiev have amply demonstrated, the “pro-Western” camp in Ukraine contains many ultra-nationalists and even neo-fascists who detest Western democracy and modern Western culture. As for Russia’s allies from the former Soviet establishment, they have extracted as much financial aid from Russia as possible, diverted most of it into their own pockets, and done as little for Russia in return as they possibly could.

Over the past year, both Russia and the European Union tried to force Ukraine to make a clear choice between them—and the entirely predictable result has been to tear the country apart. Russia attempted to draw Ukraine into the Eurasian Customs Union by offering a massive financial bailout and heavily subsidized gas supplies. The European Union then tried to block this by offering an association agreement, though (initially) with no major financial aid attached. Neither Russia nor the EU made any serious effort to talk to each other about whether a compromise might be reached that would allow Ukraine somehow to combine the two agreements, to avoid having to choose sides. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

How the U.S. and NATO helped sustain the Taliban

Quoting Shelley, Anatol Lieven writes:

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

A number of writers have preceded me in quoting Shelley’s Ozymandias to evoke the huge US and NATO bases planted since 2001 in Afghanistan. The comparison is irresistible, but not necessarily apt. Even if only the head and legs were left, bits of Ozymandias’s statue had still presumably survived for three thousand years or so, which is a pretty good record as these things go. Few US or NATO officials, by contrast, seem to be planning seriously much beyond the next three years.

In Kabul, the changes wrought by the West’s twelve-year Afghan adventure have a certain solidity, at least to the point where the banks and office buildings would make for reasonably imposing and long-lasting ruins. Even some more intelligent members of the Taliban seem to recognize that the Afghan capital, a city of some five million people, is no longer the rubble-filled and shrunken city that they ruled in 2001; that the modern educated classes have grown to the point where they cannot be subjected to the moral code of a madrassa in a Pashtun mountain village; and that if a future Afghan government including the Taliban wants the help of these people — those who do not depart following the West’s withdrawal — in ruling and developing Afghanistan, it will have to grant them some freedom.

In the southern Pashtun province of Helmand, however, the atmosphere is very different. The presence of the Taliban is much more palpable both from conversations and the watchfulness of the Western forces. The veil of progress brought by the West is also a great deal thinner. During a recent trip with NATO officials, I was kept within the fortified perimeters of the US and British forces and the Afghan government centers—an indication of the current level of concern about the Taliban.

Visiting US and NATO bases there, I found that the images that came to mind were not Ozymandian images of long-fallen imperial grandeur, but rather those of science fiction: of Ray Bradbury’s human and Martian species meeting under an enormous, indifferent sky amidst the vast and utterly strange landscape of Mars. In an even gloomier mood, I thought of the Strugatsky brothers’ dystopian novel Roadside Picnic, on which Tarkovsky’s film Stalker was based. The premise is that aliens dropped by briefly on earth for some reason of their own, leaving behind a weirdly transformed landscape littered with discarded alien objects. In fact, seen from the air at night, Helmand’s huge Western military installations — Camp Leatherneck, the US Marine base, and the adjacent Camp Bastion, the main British base — look like a giant spaceship, a great blob of blazing lights amid a dark sea of desert. At the height of the Western occupation, the camps used more electricity than the rest of the province put together. Every drop of fuel for the generators had to be shipped in through Pakistan, along with every drop of mineral water and every bite of food consumed by the troops.

And if you want to move from science fiction to Alice in Wonderland, ask yourself this: how has it been possible to bring all that stuff in by road through areas of Pakistan controlled largely by the Pakistani Taliban, allied to the Afghan Taliban — areas from which Pakistani Taliban have launched innumerable attacks on Pakistani forces? Why have there been so few attacks, and those few (to judge by circumstantial evidence) only when the Pakistani military wants to send a message to Washington? The answer appears to be that the Taliban tax these NATO convoys as they tax all other trade in the region: Obtaining tax revenues from mineral water, fruit juice, hamburgers, and other NATO necessities that do them no harm at all is, it turns out, far more advantageous than interrupting our supply routes. In other words, all these years NATO has actually been subsidizing the Taliban’s war effort. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

How a NATO exercise almost triggered a nuclear war

The Observer reports: Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Art, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

Able Archer, which involved 40,000 US and Nato troops moving across western Europe, co-ordinated by encrypted communications systems, imagined a scenario in which Blue Forces (Nato) defended its allies after Orange Forces (Warsaw Pact countries) sent troops into Yugoslavia following political unrest. The Orange Forces had quickly followed this up with invasions of Finland, Norway and eventually Greece. As the conflict had intensified, a conventional war had escalated into one involving chemical and nuclear weapons.

Numerous UK air bases, including Greenham Common, Brize Norton and Mildenhall, were used in the exercise, much of which is still shrouded in secrecy. However, last month Paul Dibb, a former director of the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation, suggested that the 1983 exercise posed a more substantial threat than the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. “Able Archer could have triggered the ultimate unintended catastrophe, and with prompt nuclear strike capacities on both the US and Soviet sides, orders of magnitude greater than in 1962,” he said. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Inside the NATO summit bubble

Michael Hastings writes: On Sunday morning, I picked up my official NATO Summit press credentials, went through an extensive security check from my hotel (dogs, metal detectors, Secret Service, all in the The Hyatt Regency, where most of the NATO media is staying) and boarded a bus to McCormack Place, the massive conference center where most of the summit is taking place.

Both the trip there and the trip back seemed designed to keep the chaos at bay, out of sight and out of mind, with roads closed down to secretly slip us by the potentially angry people in the streets. If Chicago residents were going to get annoyed by the traffic, and NATO protesters annoyed by the heavy handed police tactics, the global elite weren’t going to be bothered by any of it.

Compared to the reality of the Chicago streets — the heat, the smells, a sense of manic purpose — the cavernous McCormack place felt very sterile. World leaders faces were broadcast on big screens, played in endless loops exchanging pleasantries. (Example: “It is great to be back in Chicago,” says NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “Welcome each and everyone of you to my hometown,” says President Barack Obama.)

The international press corps covering NATO must be one of the most boring collectives of journalists ever assembled. They seem very keen on not missing any press releases handed out at the NATO media desk.

The summit itself is mostly a symbolic affair — we nations gather together and affirm our commitment to one another. In Afghanistan’s case this is no longer true, however: the commitment is really to get out of our commitments as quickly as possible.

facebooktwittermail

Video: ‘No NATO, no war’

facebooktwittermail

U.S. war veterans tossing medals back at NATO was a heroic act

Bernard Harcourt writes: “No amount of medals, ribbons, or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by this war.”

“I have only one word, and it is shame.”

“This is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“Mostly, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I am sorry…”

In the shadow of the Nato summit, under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of full-black-clad riot police, dozens of former servicemen and women in uniform, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, threw away their medals, with apologies. It was one of the most moving experiences many of us had witnessed in our lives. It is hard to describe in words. I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a woman next to me crying. Their words, their voices, crackling under the emotion of their courageous act, breaking under the weight of the pain, the trauma, their anger, sadness, and hope – theirs was a heroic and beautiful act, a moving ceremony. It was a privilege to be there with these women and men who served in our wars.

Operation Iraqi Freedom medal. Tossed. Global War on Terror medal. Thrown. National Defense medal. Pitched. Marine Corps Good Conduct medal. Flung. Navy and Marine Corps medal. Chucked.

Most of the reporting of the demonstrations that met the summit will focus on the minor violence, on the few clashes between protesters and police, on the blood, on everything that happened after the peaceful march was over. In our sad world of spectacle, the pushing and shoving will be all that gets our attention. It is a pity.

Because what was truly remarkable today was the American servicewomen and men tossing their medals back at Nato. In a mixture of sadness, shame, anger, and pride, of trauma, sorrow, and pain, some looking back at their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, some healing from PTSD, others chanting Occupy slogans, these men and women showed a type of courage that the Nato leaders should have been forced to watch. Tragically, our leaders were busy posing for photo ops. They should have been forced to listen to these courageous men and women, to their veterans. It is their loss, ultimately. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

NATO talks security and peace, Chicago has neither

Gary Younge writes: On Friday morning in Brighton Park, a neighbourhood in southwest Chicago, around half a dozen Latina volunteers in luminous bibs patrolled the streets around Davis Elementary school. The school sits in the crossfire of three gangs; the Kings, the 2/6s and the SDs (Satan’s Disciples). The trees and walls nearby are peppered with “tags” denoting territory and mourning fallen gang members. There is a shooting in the area every couple of weeks, explains Mariela Estrada of the Brighton Park Neighbourhood Council, which facilitates the volunteers.

That same evening, just a couple of blocks away, a 14-year-old, Alejandro Jaime, was shot dead while out riding his bike with his 11-year-old friend. According to witnesses, a car knocked them both off their bikes. They picked themselves up and ran. A man got out of the car and shot Alejandro in the back. “Although it’s the city’s job to provide public safety, we had to respond since our children are in danger and continue to face threats of gang violence,” said Nancy Barraza, a Parent Patrol volunteer.

The next morning world leaders started arriving in Chicago for the Nato summit where, just 20 minutes from Brighton Park, they would discuss how to maintain international security. The dissonance between the global pretensions of the summit this weekend and the local realities of Chicago could not be more striking. Nato claims its purpose is to secure peace through security; in much of Chicago neither exists.

When the city mayor Rahm Emanuel brought the summit to Chicago he boasted: “From a city perspective this will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.” The alternative “99% tour” of the city, organised by the Grassroots Collaborative that came to Brighton Park, revealed how utterly those who claim to export peace and prosperity abroad have failed to provide it at home.

The murder rate in Chicago in the first three months of this year increased by more than 50% compared with the same period last year, giving it almost twice the murder rate of New York. And the manner in which the city is policed gives many as great a reason to fear those charged with protecting them as the criminals. By the end of July last year police were shooting people at the rate of six a month and killing one person a fortnight. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Welcome, NATO, to Chicago’s police state

Bernard Harcourt writes: With Nato delegates arriving Saturday night, the City of Chicago has been turned into a police state. Courtesy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who several months ago began implementing new draconian anti-protest measures, Chicago has gone on security lockdown. Starting early Friday night, 18 May 2012, the Chicago Police Department began shutting down – prohibiting cars, bikes, and pedestrians – miles and miles of highways and roads in the heart of Chicago to create a security perimeter around downtown and McCormick Place (where the Nato summit is being held).

Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing went up all over that perimeter and downtown, including Grant Park; and the Chicago police – as well as myriad other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the US secret service – were out in force on riot-geared horses, bikes, and patrols – batons at the ready. Philadelphia Police Department is sending over reinforcements to help out; Chicago has also asked for recruits from police departments in Milwaukee and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC. Meanwhile, F-16 warplanes “screamed through the skies as part of a pre-summit defense exercise” and helicopters hovered incessantly.

The Chicago Police Department has spent $1m in “riot-control equipment” in anticipation of the Nato summit. According to the Guardian, “The city of Chicago’s procurement services website shows that in March [2012] $757,657 was spent on 8,513 ‘retro-fit kits’ to be fitted to police helmets. In February [2012] 673 of the same kits, which include a face shield and ear and neck protectors, were purchased for $56,632.” Plus, the Chicago Police Department will be deploying its two, new, expensive long-range acoustic device (LRAD) sound cannons – which it bought at $20,000 a pop. These are the type of devices that were used by the Pittsburgh police to deliver high-pitched alarm tones during the G20 summit meeting there in 2009. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail