Monday, 28 February 2011

Welcome to The Wild West

Many say that the level of violence in Mexico is exaggerated; that things aren’t as bad as the media portrays. In fact, President Obama said, only in September, that comparisons between Mexico and Colombia at the height of its drug war are void. The families of the four headless corpses displayed in the city of Nuevo yesterday may beg to differ. And they won’t be the only ones. The murder rate in Mexico has rocketed from around 200 per month in January 2007 to around 1,100 in June 2010. In total, an estimated 34,600 individuals have met their end in drug related incidents since Felipe Calderon began the ostensible war on drugs at the end of 2006.

Thus, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this most recent exhibition of extreme violence is that, well, it’s not that shocking. In addition to the grossly inflated monthly murder rate that is largely supplemented by gang on gang crime, there were over a dozen mayors and mayors-elect assassinated in Mexico last year as well as a candidate for the governor of Tamaulipas in June and the former governor of Colima in November. It’s becoming less of an anomaly and more of a regular strand within the fabric of Mexican society. And it’s not only the political class under attack; the media has also been victim of an intense campaign of violence and intimidation as have the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

The situation is becoming dire. It shares more than an eerie similarity with Colombia’s plight in the 80s and 90s where Pablo Escobar’s “plata o plomo” (silver or lead, money or bullets) policy ruled Colombia with a genuine sense of fear. There, the assassination of Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was the culmination of a campaign of terror which targeted Colombia’s democratic institutions; the free press, the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the government. Spot the difference? There isn’t one. Mexico’s cartels are following in the well-trodden footsteps of Escobar. Palming the situation off as “exaggerated” is burying one’s head in the sand.

And Mexico’s military oriented response is not so much helping matters. Taking out the likes of Gulf Cartel’s drug lord, Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, aka 'Tony Tormenta', may be necessary if Mexico is to break up the cartels’ activity, yet the similarities with Colombia’s drug war mean that similar means of beating the problem are required. Mexico must make use of the very institutions which are currently under siege in this struggle; giving the centre stage to its law enforcement agencies and judiciary. A militarised response may give the impression of speedy gains but in reality it is a dangerous platform that encourages a full blown war bringing Mexico’s cocaine cowboys’ own “plata o plomo” policy into a legitimate light.

by Dane Vallejo

How many people must die before you actually act?

Can a madman who seems to pose the question “I rule you or I kill you” be convinced to withdraw by the sanctions decided yesterday by the UN Council without military back up?
Rather belated, the US decided to pose unilateral sanctions on Libya and the EU, NATO, and the UN Security Council are following suit, with the latter adopting yesterday a unanimous decision to pose tough measures on the not-so-much Jamahiriya of Libya. Up to now, an overwhelming figure of 1,000 is estimated to be the death toll according to the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Franco Frattini[1] and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon[2].
Sanctions are a useful tool in the long run and their usefulness lies in its preventive nature; that is before the escalation of a crisis. However, it is not quite effective in the short run and especially now in Libya where the situation is way out of control; let alone by itself. As Fouad Ajami of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies reminded us, Qaddafi survived sanctions before[3]. The Council decided to ask the International Court of Justice to investigate for crimes against humanity, to impose an arms embargo on Libya, and sanctions such as a travel ban and an asset freeze on the ruling elite[4]. Will these actions prevent the massacre in Libya? Is it possible that a Mad Dog who in essence poses the question “I rule you or I kill you” be restrained by such means? Hardly so. While the Western countries discuss sanctions, and until they actually implement their decisions, the number of murdered Libyans will rise and the West will share responsibility for this.
Qaddafi was in front of the urgent ultimatum, as the UK leadership suggested[5], long enough: withdraw and asylum or Hague and trial for crimes against humanity. Qaddafi has vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” rather than abandoning its rule; there is indeed no need to wait much longer, the man responded already. Ban Ki-moon recognised that “even bolder steps might be necessary” and added that the Council’s decision “while it cannot, by itself, end the violence and the repression it is a vital step- a clear expression of the will of a united community of nations”.
From that point and on, the West needs to take immediate and decisive steps to prevent more killings. Immediately implement the decisions of the UN Council especially those related in humanitarian aid but also support the resistance forces, prepare a unified Western coalition and as Professor Bruce W. Jentleson suggests[6] wisely, include the Arab League and the African Union, and threaten for intervention. Military intervention even if risky is probably the only option to prevent the atrocious crimes currently committed in the country. That is not to suggest a full range military action but rather surgical operations such as shooting down airplanes that intend to attack protesters. Military force should back the international community’s decisions in order to be taken seriously by Qaddafi and his elite.
Let us also not forget, that if the West is truly interested in promoting democracy in the world, it has a moral obligation not only to save the Libyans from the bloody hands of their rulers but also to guarantee support for a regime change, with respect to their national integrity, providing the necessary checks and balances for the creation of a democratic state that the Libyans so righteously are struggling for.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Dictator Club

"What Simon Bolívar is to the Venezuelan people, Gaddafi is to the Libyan people" said one Mr. Hugo Chávez.  If it wasn’t for the gravity of around 1000 deceased at the hands of Gaddafi’s regime, one might muster a wry smile at this lunacy...

Latin American reactions to the on-goings in Libya have been split and all the more interesting as such.  On the one hand, there’s Peru which has become the first state to sever ties with Libya following Gaddafi’s repulsive response to the protests against his despotic regime.  A gold star for Lima; good work.  But before we get carried away with celebration, let’s not forget the gruesome twosome: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez.

Castro has gone on record to criticize the West’s response to Gaddafi’s gross crackdown in Tripoli and Benghazi.  Oil, he says, is the main concern in Washington and not peace for Libya.  What is more, the US is supposedly ready to invade in "a matter of hours or a few days" according to the Cuban dictator who still runs the show behind Raul’s figurative leadership.  These are bold claims given the relative quiet that has dominated the White House since events broke.  One can only imagine that Castro’s rhetoric will spew like an erupting well now that Obama has finally reacted to events in Tripoli.

Then there’s Chávez: Latin America’s very own peculiar political performer.  Direct ties between Chávez and Gaddafi have been growing incrementally over the years and just when you thought their relationship could not get any more bizarre, it inevitably does.  Gaddafi has named a football stadium after Chávez in Benghazi; he has offered a Bedouin tent to Chávez as a warming gift; and Chávez has bequeathed a replica of Simon Bolivar’s (the championed liberator of South American independence from the Spanish) sword in return.  Ah yes, the famous Bolivar sword.  Everybody has one:  Mugabe, Castro, Gaddafi.   Somehow this symbol has perversely come to represent staunch opposition to democracy, prosperity and liberty.

So while this exclusive club of dictators hides behind the pretext of perceived Western imperialism and exploitation of their resources, it is important to recognise that their relationships really boil down to a cosy bracket designed to protect the sanctity of their own personal sovereignties.  For all of Chávez’s endeavours to endear himself to indigenous peoples and minorities worldwide, where is his support for the hundreds dead in Libya?  If “revolution for the people” is what he stands for, then where is his support for those who continue to brave the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi to force political change?  It’s very easy for me to sit here poking fun at the lunacy of these dictators and illuminate the contradictions in their ways, but there is a serious issue at hand here.  As long as there are dictators such as these, violations of human rights will continue.

This brings me to my final point.  Considering Chávez’s incessant reference to Simon Bolivar, perhaps he ought to take heed from one of Bolivar’s own musings: "Nothing is so dangerous as allowing a single citizen to remain in power for a long time. The people get used to obeying him, and he gets used to giving them orders, and that is the root of tyranny."

There is a glaring lesson in there for Chávez, Castro and Gaddafi.

by Dane Vallejo

This blog was originally posted by The Henry Jackson Society, 24/02/11, at 

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A review of "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda", by Peter Bergen

Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, first became interested in al-Qaeda in the mid 1990s, and since that point he has established himself as one of America’s foremost experts on the subject. In addition to an impressive back catalogue of books, articles and lectures, Bergen has conducted interviews with a wide variety of important figures and is one of the few Western journalists to have interviewed Osama bin Laden. In his new book, Bergen attempts to tell the history of the war on terror, from the origins of al-Qaeda’s outlandish aspirations to the present day.
In the opening passages, Bergen presents an enthralling account of the origins of the 9/11 attacks, tracing the development of al-Qaeda’s strategy following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 and demonstrating America’s inability to respond to this challenge. He paints a damming picture of the Clinton and Bush administrations’ actions in the years and months before 9/11, claiming that the problem did not lie in a lack of information about al-Qaeda’s intentions and capabilities, but in America’s unwillingness to see an attack from such an organisation as a realistic threat. He goes on to show how this incompetence continued into the early stages of the war in Afghanistan through the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden in Tora Bora in late 2001, and their reluctance to commit adequate troops or aid to the beleaguered nation for fear of entangling themselves in ‘nation building’. He also demonstrates how the attacks of 9/11 constituted a tactical mistake on the part of al-Qaeda since they brought about the exact opposite of bin Laden’s stated aim of removing US troops from Muslim lands and embroiled the organisation in a war it cannot possibly win.
However, when it comes to the origins of the Iraq War, Bergen is much less convincing. To read Bergen on Iraq is to get the impression that nobody considered Saddam’s regime a problem until the neo-cons came along with an unshakable determination to overthrow him, even if that meant fabricating evidence of Saddam’s WMD programme and making non-existent links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet to make this position seem coherent he has to leave out a lot of important information. Not once does he mention Saddam’s numerous violations of UN resolutions or the fact that his military had fired at coalition forces protecting the no-fly zones over Iraq every day for ten years. Nor does he care to remind us that it was under the Clinton administration in 1998 that the Iraq Liberation Act was passed in the Senate declaring that it should be the policy of the United States to move Iraq into a post Saddam era. Of course, the Bush (and Blair) administrations attempted to frighten rather than persuade their populations into supporting the war in Iraq by using flawed, and ultimately dishonest, methods and Bergen is right to point this out. Yet, by completely ignoring Saddam’s undeniable record of crime; his constant flouting of UN resolutions; his campaigns of genocide; his invasions of neighbouring countries; and the state of perpetual fear and misery that he created in Iraqi society, Bergen is himself presenting a rather dishonest account of the origins of the Iraq war.
The author also contradicts himself in a number of places. For example, near the beginning of the book he expresses his surprise that so many have overlooked the important role of religion when discussing the ‘root causes’ of Islamic terrorism and bin Laden’s motivation. Yet a few pages later he declares that there can be no justification for al-Qaeda’s attacks in the Koran or other key texts and, for the rest of the book, continuously stresses that bin Laden is motivated primarily by US foreign policy. Of course, it is possible (and undoubtedly true) that bin Laden is motivated by both religion and foreign policy, but to deliberately emphasise the importance of religion on one page and then play it down just a few pages later seems a little odd.     
And there are also one or two nonsensical statements in the book. Take for instance:
Bush would style himself as a “wartime president,” but by way of sacrifice he stopped playing golf, cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans, and did not institute a draft. At the height of the Battle of Britain in 1940, Churchill could say with some truth, “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” After 9/11, never was so little asked from so many.
Apart from drawing a rather crude contrast to Churchill, what point is Bergen trying to make here? Is he seriously suggesting that President Bush should have implemented a draft; something commonly agreed by both right and left during the 1970s to constitute a form of slavery? And what does whether or not the president plays golf have to do with anything?
The book’s closing chapters are a great deal more persuasive, with Bergen laying out how the Bush administration – in the face of considerable opposition from the Democratic Party, foreign policy experts and the general public – decided to send more troops to Iraq and implement a counter insurgency strategy, thus helping to radically alter America’s fortunes in the war. This is followed by a superb chapter on the dilemma’s that confronted the incoming Obama administration in the deteriorating war in Afghanistan, in which Bergen manages in 25 pages to present a more interesting account of the challenges the administration faced and the options it considered, than Bob Woodward was able to do in his incredibly repetitive 400 page book on the subject, Obama’s Wars, released last year.
Ultimately, the book’s success lies in its ability to tell the story from both sides; to bring to light the misconceptions and miscalculations that both al-Qaeda and America made both before and after the events of 9/11. Though Bergen is convinced that al-Qaeda’s philosophy and tactics mean it is destined to eventually be defeated, he shows us that the longest war is not set to end any time soon.

by Matt Jones

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Is Libya next?

Gadaffi's 42 year reign in Libya came under rare threat yesterday as protests flashed in Benghazi.  Following the winds of revolution across the Middle East, the question inevitably Libya the next domino to fall?

Want to know what's going on in Libya?  Looking for a short, digestible briefing?  Then click below:


by Dane Vallejo

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Dragon in the Backyard

China’s economic rise ought not to be Washington’s only concern in regard to the Asian giant as Beijing’s intrusion into the Western hemisphere is a clear strategic threat to the US’ geopolitical interests...

Visit Cartagena on Colombia's Northern coast and you will see an unmistakable history of transatlantic imperial history unravel before your eyes.  From the rows of picturesque colonial houses with their wooden banister balconies, blossoming hanging baskets and vibrantly painted exteriors through to the crumbling fortress of San Felipe de Barajas complete with the brass cannons peeking over its historical walls, the stamp of Spain's empire is intoxicating. But as the stonework of San Felipe de Barajas fades with time, somewhere down the Atlantic coastline, the hard steel of a new empire is being laid. 

Plans for a 'dry Panama canal' were unveiled yesterday which propose to link the Pacific port of Buenaventura to Colombia’s Atlantic coast by rail.  If the deals brokered last year by Beijing with Venezuela's state oil company PdVSA and its dealings with Brazil’s Petrobas weren't enough to convince, these latest negotiations with the Santos administration in Colombia ought to paint a clearer picture; China's scramble for Latin America is well and truly on.

The Sino-Colombian relationship has been growing for some time.  Trade between the pair has leapt from $10 million to $5 billion in 30 years and Colombia’s geostrategic position as South America’s shortest northern route from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast is a clear pull for Beijing.  The 491 mile, $4.7 billion railway line is therefore not such a surprising venture between the resource-crazy Chinese and the Santos administration which has focused on an economic agenda since replacing the defence-centric Uribe.  But where does the US stand amongst all this?

On the plus side, it would appear that this proposed deal will be a further step toward the ongoing renovation of Latin America’s continental infrastructure and will therefore be beneficial for the neoliberal agenda in the Western Hemisphere.  It is likely that the move will also prompt the US to finally ratify the free-trade agreement with Colombia which has been on the table for some four years.  But amongst these economic outlooks, it is difficult to see beyond the strategic significance of a dragon in the backyard. 

China’s push into the Western hemisphere is ultimately a push into the US’ traditional sphere of influence.  Since the formulation of the Monroe Doctrine, the US has been particularly sensitive to outside influence in the Americas as exemplified by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  It is unlikely that this stance will soften now.  China’s economic rise is the subject of some serious column inches in Washington and worldwide, particularly now that some estimates project China’s GDP to catch up with the US’ by 2025.  Add to this meteoric economic resurgence China’s human rights record and its ideological appeal to the Leftist-Latin-League headed by political performer, Hugo Chávez, and you have a problem. 

Whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it and whether or not China is even consciously aware of it, Beijing is on a path to empire.  As many historians have pointed out, empires exist because great powers calculate that they can obtain better access to resources through control as opposed to the open market.  Surely it’s about time we open our eyes and recognise what the Dragon is up to?

by Dane Vallejo

This blog was originally published by The Henry Jackson Society, 15/02/11, at 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Turkey's Need to Compromise & the Cyprus Issue

Turkey’s path to an EU membership is a story that goes back to 1959 when it first requested its association to the Commons market, obtained only in 1963. Since then, many ups and downs followed that led to the last decade’s stalemate. Turkey decided to change the game and bargain harder. Everybody knows how good Turks are when it comes to bargaining. But it is time that Europe realizes that when a merchant shouts that he will soon be out of stock he only intends to sell more. EU member states should set their own rules instead of struggling to play Turkey’s game. A few years ago Greece vetoed Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkish officials, including the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yasar Yakis MP, continue to argue that all Europe wants Turkey in the Union and that the Greeks are the problem. To support this, Mr. Yakis has argued that Jacques Chirac has said in the past that “the EU, as a free trade union, could survive without Turkey, but if it wanted to perform a global responsibility it had to work together with Turkey”[1]. This only confuses whoever is listening. Mr. Chirac expressed the views of almost every European that cooperation with Turkey is essential, however, this does not necessarily mean full membership and more importantly accession without meeting the requirements set by the Union. One should not forget that Mr. Chirac wanted also to please Mr. Mustafa Bullent Ecevit, who has been his friend since their University years. But after 1999, when Greece eventually stopped vetoing Turkey’s membership, France’s official position changed considerably. In 2004, it was Chirac who stated that:

Three conditions should be met before EU membership talks with Turkey can begin: a. it must be clear that negotiations could end with much less than full EU membership, b. the French people have the ultimate right to reject Turkish membership in a referendum, and c. talks to start in 2005.

But it was not only France that raised doubts on Turkey’s prospect of entering the EU. Angela Merkel expressed the will of the majority of the Germans when she appeared very skeptical on this possibility.  After Cyprus joined the EU, veto came forth once more and Turkey’s accession reached a stalemate again. Turkey goes to great lengths to argue that a small state of several thousand people defies the will of the entire Europe, which wishes to include Turkey in the EU family. This misperception is encouraged by Turkish officials, including Mr. Yakis. The truth however, which is pretty obvious to whoever wants to see it, is that Europe hides behind Cyprus’ veto as it did when Greece opposed Turkey’s membership. It is very likely that a shift in French and German politics will be observed, which will not signal a shift in EU population feelings, but will only put a veil over the great divisions that exist in Europe when it comes to its eastern enlargement.

Turkey needs to be clear as to what it seeks. Sooner or later it will stand before the big question: West or East? Turkey is already a full member of the Islamic Conference Organization in the East and the NATO in the West. Is it in its best interests to be a full member of the EU as well? Many people argue that it is. So, instead of accusing European states of pushing them away, Turkey needs to examine the reasons why this happens and adopt policies that can bring the country closer to its European allies rather than hold them back. Maybe the requirements that EU states ask to be met by Ankara are justified.

Mr. Yakis has more or less supported in the past that Turkey should become a full member without necessarily meeting all the requirements. It is a well-known fact that, in a lot of cases, states entered the Union as a result of a political decision. This by no means implies that the requirements are there just to put gloss on the treaties! Turkey cannot possibly demand to be part of the EU without meeting those requirements, especially when it comes to corruption, the judicial system, the role of the army, human rights (minorities, fundamental liberties), and there is still a way to go in economy issues, since even though Turkey’s GDP rises, the gap between the poor and the rich gets even bigger. The government has, however, taken major steps especially in the last decade and everyone acknowledges that efforts to reform the country were made and still are so. But the problems are numerous, and thus these efforts, even if hard, are not yet enough.

Turkey should try and make more compromises because after all Germany, France, and Cyprus are already EU members and Turkey is the nation seeking to be included. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu argued two months ago that the EU needs Turkey and not the other way around. This, however, is not quite the case. Both the EU and Turkey benefit in economic terms by the Customs Union. The cooperation in energy is fulfilled through this agreement and it can be further enhanced as it is going to be in the best interest of both parties; however full membership is not required for this. Therefore, the EU does not “need” Turkey in that sense, as it is often supported by Turkish officials. The EU is not in a rush to include Turkey in all its institutions. It is Turkey that needs not to be left behind.

Turkey has recently requested more than it can get. This, of course, is understood to be the policy that Turkey has also adopted in the Greek-Turkish disputes very successfully so far. That is requesting as much as possible so that there are at least some gains. For the last few years, the EU has been asking Turkey to allow Greek Cypriot (EU) ships reach their harbors and airports. Turkey, of course, claims something in return: the recognition of a Northern Cyprus state by the Greek Cypriots.

Before continuing, it is of great importance to provide a very brief summary of how things got where they are now; Cyprus did not manage to get liberated from the Ottoman Empire after the Greek liberation revolt in 1821, and went under British control. In 1960 the independent Republic of Cyprus was established. The British influence remained strong in the island during the time when Greece and Cyprus were trying to find a way to unite. This was very difficult especially after 1967 when a coup controlled by the USA took over Greece, while the Cypriot leader, Archbishop Makarios, wanted autonomy at the time. Moreover, there was a Turkish minority of about 18% in the island and there were a lot of violent confrontations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. As early as September 1955 the UK directly involved Turkey in a three-part Conference, which took place in London, concerning the future of the island. Whether this was wise, is not within the scope of this paper to discuss.

According to the resulting Treaty, ,, Athens and Ankara had the right to intervene if there was destabilization in the island to protect either Greeks or Turks respectively. Turkey tried to invade in 1963 and in 1964 unsuccessfully, after the American President, Lyndon Johnson, blocked their initiatives. But in 1974, Turkey found an excellent opportunity: the Greek coup established a coup in Cyprus giving Turkey the chance to invade -twice- based on the aforementioned trilateral agreement. The Treaty referred to stipulated “steps or necessary means” to maintain order and did not justify military operations under any circumstances. At this time, the US President Nixon was weak after the Watergate Scandal, and Henry Kissinger dealt with the situation. But instead of just overthrowing the coup and leaving, and since the international community did not take immediate steps to subdue the situation, the Turks remained in the Northern part of the island, dividing the country de facto and establishing an independent state a few months later, which nobody has recognised since.

Even on the 10th of January 2011 the Minister of Internal Affairs and current negotiator with the EU, Mr Egmen Bayis, argued that the military is there to safeguard the Turkish citizens of Northern Cyprus, which is dubious since in the last 40 years, neither the Greeks or the Greek Cypriots has shown any intention to invade militarily and regain territories; that would be absurd. To date, a lot of efforts have been made to resolve the situation but they were unsuccessful because no side is willing to abandon its national interest in the region. Even when Turkey decided to approve the controversial Kofi Annan Plan, they did so because in part they knew that Cypriots would never have accepted it. Of course, now they claim that they were much more conciliatory than the Greeks, and are trying to show that the latter are those who do not want a solution. It is worth mentioning here that the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Ahmet Davutoglu wrote in his recent book “The Strategic Depth” -which should be translated in English promptly- that “even if there was not even one Muslim Turk there [Cyprus], Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus Issue. No country can stay indifferent to such an island, placed at the heart of its vital space”.

Of course, all these are not to say that Turkey alone needs to try harder. The EU also has to make adequate efforts. Turkey indeed does a lot to promote democratic institutions and create solid human rights principles. At the same time the government managed to raise the GDP, tackle unemployment, and by 2012 the Turkish government estimates that it will not be under IMF control anymore. However, social inequalities remain critical. EU members should work to take Turkey to the next level by providing twining and institution-building programmes. It is in the best interests of the EU to have a solid democratic state, one that respects human rights and the western values in its southeastern borders. The EU made promises to Turkey after the “Berlin-Plus” arrangements that have not been fulfilled yet; one of the three commitments the EU made to Turkey was to provide consultations during peace time. Turkey argues that they requested such consultations twice (concerning Iraq and Georgia) but received no response. The other commitments were Turkey’s membership in the European Defence Agency and the signing of an agreement for an exchange between Turkey and the EU of classified information which, as Turkey assumes, would pave the way for Turkish participation in the planning of the ESDP (now CSDP) with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty[2]. The EU’s reply to the above is that Ankara would have to recognize that all EU members participate in the EU-NATO cooperation, Cyprus included. So the essence of the deadlock can be summarized in the following: “Greek Cyprus, representing the entire island as a full member of the EU, blocks Turkish participation in European defence institutions, such as the European Defense Agency (EDA). Turkey, a NATO member, responds by obstructing the Greek Cypriot government’s use of NATO facilities and NATO cooperation with Greek Cyprus on defence and security issues”[3].

On top of this, Turkey, in order to allow Cypriots to access Turkish harbors and airports, ask for the embargo to Northern Cyprus to stop. They are requesting de facto recognition of the state that Turkey created in 1974. The International Community does not recognize Northern Cyprus as a state, so expecting Greek Cypriots to do so, shows either unwillingness to find a solution or stupidity; and Turks are very smart. Davutoglu said recently that Turkey will not compromise on the Cyprus Issue for the sole purpose of entering the EU. This is a statement that aims to challenge the EU states to adopt harsh policies towards Cyprus.

But the question is: does the EU “buy it”? Is it willing to compromise with such illegitimate action against all international laws and pressure for de facto recognition of Northern Cyprus? Moreover, the solution that is mostly supported is a unification of the island under some kind of federation. Therefore, there is no need to recognize a state that will be incorporated into a unified Cyprus. If Turkey wants to get something in return for allowing Greek Cypriots to enter its harbors and airplanes, it could not be something utopian. In essence, the EU and Turkey should both work hard in order to tighten their cooperation and overcome the stalemate Turkey’s membership has reached. But, compromise needs to come from both sides and rhetoric, arrogance, and egos should be left aside for the common interest.

by Madalena Papadopoulou

Lincoln's contradictions - 150 years on

Next month will see the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s ascension to power, which means that, as America prepares itself for numerous parades and events, we will once again be treated to the myth of ‘honest Abe’ as the flawless emancipator of the slaves and saviour of the nation . It is therefore an appropriate time to reflect upon Lincoln’s numerous contradictions and flaws – so often papered over by American hagiographers and the education system – that bring Lincoln to life as a great historical figure rather than a fictitious behemoth.    
The first criticisms often directed at Lincoln relate to his responsibility for the Civil War. The argument goes something like this: At the time of the Mexican War in 1848 Lincoln stated that “any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.” Yet, when the Confederate states decided to do just this in February 1861 under the leadership of Jefferson Davis, Lincoln was staunchly opposed to their behaviour and launched a brutal civil war that cost the lives of some 650,000 Americans. Moreover, in conducting the war Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for the first time in American history, arrested and imprisoned people merely for sympathising with the Southern cause and greatly expanded the size of the federal government.
These criticisms are dealt with fairly effectively however by Lincoln’s defenders. Since the Confederates were not willing to negotiate on any position, and particularly not over the extension of slavery to the new territories, then unless you believe – as some critics of American empire do – that the U.S. would have been better off had it split into two separate states in 1861, it is difficult to argue against Lincoln’s stance. Though Lincoln’s statement in 1848 contradicts his later position, his argument of 1861 that since he was legitimately elected and had broken no constitutional provision, supporting the Southerner’s decision to secede was effectively supporting the principle of allowing any group to leave the nation if it merely didn’t like the result of an election, is rather persuasive. Furthermore, though his suspension of civil rights during the war was undoubtedly too drastic, it must be remembered that the nation was in a desperate state of war in which its very survival was at stake.
The second and most often repeated criticism of Lincoln relate to his position towards slavery. Though he was staunchly opposed to the expansion of slavery to the new territories, Lincoln was certainly not an abolitionist and infamously declared to newspaper editor Horace Greely in August 1862 that if he could preserve the Union without freeing a single slave he would. Moreover, in his famous debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln declared himself to be against intermarriage and opposed to political and social equality between the races, while on more than one occasion he expressed his desire to colonise blacks away from the U.S. This has led some critics to declare that had Lincoln had his way, there would have been no Martin Luther King or Barack Obama since America would be a purely white society.
These criticisms are harder to shake off. Since there were numerous people in the 1850s and 1860s who explicitly attacked slavery and called for its immediate and complete abolition, it will not do to simply assert that Lincoln was a product of his time. Instead, Lincoln’s defenders argue that his statements need to be understood from the point of view of a pragmatic politician and, in fact, demonstrate Lincoln’s great skill. Certainly, the vast majority of the white population were racist in their views towards blacks and if Lincoln wanted to be elected he had to attain popular support, even if this meant appealing to people’s prejudices. Moreover, his insistence on preserving the Union rather than freeing the slaves reflected the fact that he could persuade men in the north to fight for the former cause, but not the latter. Though his statements on the colonisation of slaves make for uncomfortable reading, it must be remembered that Lincoln was also the author of the Emancipation Proclamation and, ultimately, it is impossible to refute the assertion that it was because of Lincoln that slavery finally came to an end.
Like the other great emancipator of the 19th century, Charles Darwin (who was coincidentally born on the exact same day of 12 February, 1809), Lincoln’s reputation is secure. Yet, it would be nice to see Lincoln celebrated at the upcoming anniversary as the great, yet flawed, figure that he was, rather than mythologized as the faultless hero of American history. Here’s hoping.   

by Matt Jones

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Thieves by day, terrorists by night...necessary in between

The rationale behind Hamid Karzai’s ongoing campaign against private security firms and the approach he has taken range from senseless to actually quite sagacious, which is exactly why a compromise must be found in the middle...

The latest showdown between Kabul and private security firms (PSF) operating in Afghanistan has seen a government probe accuse 16 firms of major violations.  For those unfamiliar, I say “the latest showdown” as this episode is but one of many that can be broadly categorised as an incremental campaign, headed by President Karzai, to push PSFs out of Afghanistan.  

Described by Karzai as “thieves by day” and “terrorists by night”, PSFs have garnered a reputation for acting outside of the law through infringements such as hiring too many guards, evading taxation and maintaining unregistered weapons and vehicles through to more grave violations including the alleged killing of citizens.  It seems the murky world of legitimate mercenaries has, once or twice, blurred with the often controversial world traditionally associated with paramilitaries. 

Perhaps it is reasonable therefore that Karzai should wish to assert Afghan autonomy and allow Afghan security forces to take responsibility for the security of their own nation.  After all, a crucial component of any counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign is to train indigenous forces and transfer responsibility to them over time.  We neither can nor want to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Yet before you mistake me for a romantic idealist, allow me to pop your bubble.  PSFs are integral supplementary cogs in the ISAF machine.  25,000 individuals are employed by PSFs in Afghanistan; 19,000 by the US military alone.  That is a lot of boots, covering a lot of ground.  These forces provide security for military bases, logistical lines, aid organisations and any number of necessary contingents.  With the draw down of ISAF forces a constant topic of conversation and action at home, the role played by PSFs in filling the security vacuum in Afghanistan becomes all the more apparent.  While his rationale is therefore understandable, Karzai’s plans for the dissolution of the private security sector are both premature and perilous.

But this assessment should not assign impunity to PSFs.  Yes – they are important; no – they are not above the law.  Perception counts for much in COIN and legitimacy is therefore key.  Failure to recognise this fact can taint mercenaries with the brush of paramilitaries and forge a slippery road to defeat.  Take for example, the controversial role played by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC ) in Colombia.  While considered by Bogotá to be a central component in its war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the AUC has time and again flagrantly crossed legal boundaries, incensing human rights groups and more importantly, driving sympathy for the left-wing Guerrillas.  COIN 101; don’t steer the population into the arms of the insurgent.

And so, if the risks of dissolution and impunity represent the extreme ends of the scale, then the solution lies between.  PSFs have a role to play in Afghanistan and will do for the foreseeable future, but they must act within the confines of Afghan law.  Perhaps Karzai’s nuanced stance which now seems to favour hefty fines over dissolution indicates that he is swapping intransigence for understanding.

by Dane Vallejo

This blog was originally published by The Henry Jackson Society, 09/02/11, accessed at

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Getting the Southern Corridor built

The visit of EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan last week has been met by a largely positive response in Brussels.  Yet the incessant focus on Nabucco’s role (and by extension, Turkmenistan’s) in getting the wheels in motion on the Southern Corridor project is carried out at the expense of a more realistic short term target: such as the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).  Of course, EU policy makers need not desert the pursuit of Turkmen sources outright, but they would be better advised to take an incremental approach to Central Asian gas, securing Azerbaijan’s more attainable resources first before seeking to integrate Turkmen gas into the Southern Corridor project later.

The headline event from Barroso’s visit to Azerbaijan was the signing of a Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the Southern Corridor by the EU Commission President himself and Azerbaijani President Aliyev.   The Declaration, Azerbaijan’s first written commitment to supplying European markets, is set to ensure that “the EU will directly receive Azerbaijani gas,” said Barroso who also claimed that "this new supply route will enhance the energy security of European consumers and businesses."  Yet, it is not really news as such.  That is, the concept of Baku fulfilling the role of gas supplier to European markets is no real breakthrough.  In fact, this scenario has been on the cards throughout the past decade as Azerbaijan has consistently looked at means of diversification away from Russia and the post-Soviet space and toward the West, specifically the EU.

Barroso’s visit therefore, while positive in hammering out a written commitment, really ought to have focused on achieving greater clarity in regard to the path ahead. With three major projects on the table, robustness and commitment must be built into consensus on a concrete option in order to push the overall Southern Corridor project forward.

The Italy-Turkey-Greece Interconnector (ITGI) is one option, with the smallest proposed capacity of the three, at less than 10bcm.  At the opposite end of the scale, the Nabucco pipeline has the biggest proposed capacity (31bcm), is the most widely touted and also enjoys the most backing from the European Union.  Somewhere in between in terms of capacity lies TAP.

With capacity ranking below that of Nabucco (up to 20bcm) and backed by a consortium consisting largely of non EU elements from Norway and  Switzerland,
TAP is less widely supported in Brussels than its larger competitor.  Some even go as far as to say that TAP is ‘astrategic’ from an EU point of view.  However, to draw such a conclusion would be to ignore the numerous risk-reducing facets tied into the TAP project; facets which EU policy makers must consider seriously.

For example, TAP has been designed to accommodate for reverse flow of gas thereby protecting the EU market from future gas cut offs.  This feature can be viewed as something of a geopolitical insurance policy for the EU which has had its fingers burnt by cut offs associated with the Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Belarusian disputes in 2008/9 and 2011 respectively. TAP also has a realistic schedule in comparison to the competing pipelines, including ITGI.  Nabucco’s colossal length will of course incur logistical headaches and will prove expensive and time consuming to construct (2015 would be an optimistic estimate for when construction might commence).  But even ITGI, which is shorter and smaller in terms of capacity, will require an additional 800 km of new construction compared to TAP’s relatively modest 520km.

Most significantly, however, TAP does not initially require gas from anywhere other than Azerbaijan meaning that construction on the Southern Corridor can begin, without further delay, on a dual track alongside further negotiations with Turkmenistan. 

The issue at hand here is really a question of volumes.  The viability of Nabucco’s proposed 31bcm capacity necessarily requires gas from sources other than Azerbaijan, principally Turkmenistan or Iraq.  However, the political landscape in the former two is volatile to say the least.  For example, in order to reach consensus on supplies for Nabucco, it is imperative that the Serdar/Kyapaz gas field dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan be resolved.  Despite Ashgabat seeking an international arbitrator to resolve the issue, it seems that there is no resolution in sight.  Thus, while the Turkmens are currently interested in the Southern Corridor project, there remains a web of complexity inhibiting the EU’s ability to bring them in immediately.  With China looming as an alternative market for Turkmen gas (a relationship which is already well established due to the ongoing construction of the Central Asia – China pipeline,) sentiments could quickly change in favour of the East at the expense of Nabucco.  On the contrary, construction on TAP can begin without significant delay.

Having garnered a reputation for being better at discussing policy initiatives than actually implementing them, the EU must react quickly to the opportunities in Central Asia so as to demonstrate its credentials as a serious energy trading partner.  In this instance, time is of the essence as China offers a genuine alternative market to Azerbaijani gas as well as to the Turkmen’s.  The pace of negotiations on the Southern Corridor to date have left Baku feeling rather snubbed and frustrated to the extent where officials at the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) have been compelled to consider the option of exporting hydrocarbons eastward to China and other East Asian markets instead.  Several Chinese oil companies have been awarded permits by
SOCAR to work in Azerbaijan such as Shengi Oil which received permission in June 2004 to operate the Garachukhur oil field. 

If the EU wishes to keep Baku looking west, then it needs to make a significant move in the relative short term. These factors need to be recognised by European policy makers who should be pushing for consensus on the most realistic proposal as soon as possible.  As alluded to above, beginning construction on TAP need not be at the expense of access to Turkmenistan’s resources.  On the contrary, it will consolidate Europe’s status as a reliable trading partner and open the Southern Corridor with a view to future integration with Turkmen gas.
by Dane Vallejo

This article was originally published by New Europe, 06/02/11, accessed at

Revaluing Our COIN - Moving British counterinsurgency forward in the 21st century

In a brand new strategic briefing published by The Henry Jackson Society, I discuss the condition of Britain's counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities, tracing the history of British COIN and assessing why things went so badly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and outlining policy decisions that could improve our approach.

This briefing argues against the notion that insurgency has undergone strategic shifts and, by extension, argues that the core of the 'British way' in COIN remains relevant in the face of contemporary contingencies.  This briefing then puts forward the case for COIN as a concept; arguing that a less expensive counterterrorism strategy fails to change facts on the ground in the manner of population-centric COIN.

Finally, in order to move what is a solid historical foundation forward into a COIN approach that is successful once more, this briefing outlines 4 viable policy areas which require focused improvements: military efficiency; civilian-agency efficiency; multilateral operations; and strategy. 


by Dane Vallejo

Friday, 4 February 2011

Back to the Dark Ages?

The Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak has been praised and championed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as ‘following in the footsteps of the 1979 Iranian Revolution’. If this is the case- Israel too, will be forced ‘back in time’; to when neighbouring hostility was the norm, and peace was far from achievable.

For Israel, developments in the Middle East from May 2010 must seem like a bad dream. Since then, the flotilla incident ended with harsh international criticism and a major falling-out with Turkey (affecting both security, peace negotiations and energy development in the Leviathan); Palestinian peace talks have broken down to the level where not only has Israel received public stick from the US, but the outcome of failed talks has been to strengthen Hamas’ hand and weaken more moderate elements; Hizballah has managed to be ‘all-but’ indicted by the UN tribunal into Hariri’s death, yet have still strengthened their own position and toppled the Lebanese government; and now Egypt looks set to shed its label as a bastion of stability in the region, adding fears that the Muslim Brotherhood could rise to ascendancy. To top it all off, these events are even threatening to resonate into Jordan in a serious way, and that is without mentioning other regional players (although small) such as Tunisia, Algeria and Yemen.

At a time like this it is worth checking the textbooks, and in particular, Classic Israeli Military Doctrine. For those not well versed in the history of Israeli Warfare, Israeli military Doctrine- the 1948/ 67/ 73 versions- was based around the following:

the concept of pre-emption; transfer of the battle to enemy territory; the importance of a quick military decision; flexibility within the Israeli Defence Force (IDF); the premium of quality over quantity; the use of superpower support.

All of these should be seen against a backdrop of exceptionally hostile neighbours whose stated aim was to destroy Israel, along with an Israeli geographical headache of a lack of strategic depth (Israel is small and therefore it doesn’t take long to reach her vital centres).

So where are we going with all of this?

The important issue now is that if Egypt falls, and with it Israel’s peace-deal with her south-western neighbour, Israel will be surrounded by hostile regimes. That is not to say that we will see a repeat of 1967 or 1973, but the conditions that brought about this tumultuous period may well be prominent again.

Within this background, Israel may be less at ease with letting Hizballah mass troops on the northern border, yet will have to have to recognise that a ‘New Egypt’, under any direction, may not be so willing to allow Israel to exercise its force within the region with no threat of retaliatory action from Egypt.

Therefore, it will be Israel’s hope, as well as the entire Western world, that a peaceful transition into democracy within Egypt can occur, without radical elements to coming into fruition. If radicalism does take charge, then Iran may not be the only ones harking back to the days of the 1970s’, as Israel may be forced to opt for security over peace.

Here’s to hoping we don’t erase forty years of peace negotiations for the sake of ‘democratically elected’ extremists.

by John Corner

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Rebuking the Romanticism of Revolution in Egypt

As Hosni Mubarak vows to stand down in September, the West should harbour stability by backing his decision, monitoring and assisting the transitional process and resisting knee-jerk reactions that call for Mubarak’s instant disposal so that democracy has a chance of lasting in Egypt...

Many of us have woken up this morning to the welcome news that Mubarak will not run for another term come September.  Queue scenes of jubilation on Cairo’s streets?  In drips and drabs, but it seems many of Egypt’s citizens are out for blood if not Mubarak’s immediate ejection at least.

However, for those of us in the West who are fortunate enough to be monitoring the situation from afar and away from the emotion, violence and anger that is currently encapsulating Cairo, a more pragmatic long term analysis is possible.

Democracy has spoken in Egypt and it must arrive.  Egypt’s protesters should be commended for their efforts and there will be few in the West who do not support their drive for change.  But for the sake of Egypt’s stability, Mubarak should retain office until September so that under the protection of continuity in governance, the next eight months can be dedicated to the achievement of a smooth transition, affording Egypt a better chance of realising the reforms that its people so clearly desire and deserve.  As part of this process, an international collaboration of states, headed by the United States, must assist Egypt in this transitional period, not only to build robustness and support into the process, but to ensure that Mubarak’s promises are kept.

As was argued in last week’s Telegraph, lessons should be drawn from the catastrophic debaathificaton process carried out by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.  Clearly, there are vast disparities between the political situation in Egypt today and what was then in Iraq.  Yet, the underlying theme is the same.  Mubarak may be an ineffective plaster covering Egypt’s social, economic and political wounds, but in this case, ripping that plaster away quickly will not ease the pain.  Just as Iraq plunged into chaos without the guiding hand of experienced (though admittedly brutally oppressive) governance, Egypt would be in danger of turmoil too should a sudden revolution take course over incremental reform.  The fallout would be tremendously difficult to reign in overnight.

Call me a spoil-sport, killjoy or party-pooper, but pragmatism should take precedence over the romanticism of revolution on this occasion not only for Egypt’s sake, but for the stability of the region.  Change is coming in the form of democracy, but let’s give that change a fighting chance of long term survival.

by Dane Vallejo

This blog was originally published by The Henry Jackson Society, 02/02/11, accessed at

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Bringing Mladic to Justice

Serbia’s attempt to apprehend the war criminal Ratko Mladic is not merely a matter of Serbian national interest...

“We will do it in Serbia’s interest.”

These are the words of Serbian government spokesman, Milivoje Mihajlovic, referring to his nation’s increased efforts to apprehend Ratko Mladic, the former army general indicted for 11 counts of war crimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide, committed during the Bosnian war. Mr Mihajlovic’s comments reflect the fact that the arrest of Mladic is the last barrier preventing Serbia’s application process in to the EU, a goal they have been officially seeking since December 2009. The government has recently searched an apartment belonging to the son of the fugitive, having raised its reward for information leading to his capture from 5 to 10 million euros late last year as part of an expanded effort to arrest the war criminal.

It is a sad state of affairs that Serbia only begins to take the hunt for Mladic seriously now that it has the incentive of EU membership. This is a man wanted for the most heinous crimes, including the infamous 1995 genocide of some 8,000 Muslim boys and men in the eastern town of Srebrenica and for orchestrating the near-four year siege of Sarajevo. Unlike the man who still evades capture for the atrocities committed on 9/11, Mladic has not been hiding in the unmapped mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan; he has been residing on the turf of multicultural mainland Europe. The fact that he has been at large for so long is a disgrace to European justice and a humiliation to his victims. With the chief UN war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, Serge Brammertz, set to travel to Serbia yet again next month to assess whether the country is doing all it can to apprehend Mladic, it is vital that he maintains the full weight of UN pressure on Belgrade.

The day that Ratko Mladic is delivered to The Hague to join his psychopathic former boss, Radovan Karadzic, will be a good day, not for ‘Serbian interests’, but for international law and criminal justice.

by Matt Jones