Ron Asmus, RIP

Ron Asmus, a key person in the 1990s enlargement of NATO and a tireless advocate of better European and transatlantic relations, died on Saturday, April 30. He was 53.

The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog writes:

He was a discreet, wise and sympathetic presence in the region, in Washington DC, and in West European capitals for two decades, explaining to jittery ex-communist politicians that volume and frequency of public utterances does not correlate with effectiveness, to American officials and politicians that the goal of “Europe whole and free” still required patient and detailed work, and to West European leaders that a security grey zone in the east would be as bad for them as it would be for those consigned to it.

Just so.

He will be much missed, even among people who barely knew him, and his efforts missed among people who knew him not at all.


* The new president of Kosovo is the youngest, the first woman and the first non-partisan person to hold the post. She will also be the last selected by the present method of parliamentary election. Her election by the parliament breaks a deadlock and averts a potential political crisis. Atifete Jahjaga, who will turn 36 on April 20, is a western-trained policewoman and had been deputy director of the Kosovo police force. According to the deal that brought her to office, future presidents will be elected directly, and the first such election will be held within six months. People who know more about Kosovo than I do are kindly invited to weigh in.

* This long post on Bulgaria’s shrinking population coins the phrase “demographic bailout.” It’s an interesting look at a corner of Europe and a set of problems that tend not to find a wider audience. Population changes and their implications have long been an AFOE theme, ably explicated by Edward. Some of his views on Bulgaria are here, here and here.

* LiveJournal, which is the key platform for Russia’s blogosphere, has been under recurring DDoS attacks in April (LJ responds). It’s not at all clear who is behind the attacks, with accusations and counter-accusations quickly turning into a hall of mirrors. What has become clear is that an important element of Russia’s civic discourse is vulnerable.

* Speaking of Russian discourse, the country’s current chief of the armed forces’ general staff, Nikolai Makarov, spoke at the General Assembly of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and apparently delivered quite a take-down. As one expert characterized the speech, Makarov said “the various military academies and institutes continued studying the old wars, assuming that in the future, the Russian military would be called upon to fight World War II yet again, and what’s more, do it with World War II era technology and tactics.” (The Academy’s director is a WWII veteran.)
Makarov took the Russian military’s shortcomings in the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 as impetus for significant reform, and has argued that Russia largely slept through the last 20 years of military advances. Furthermore, he foresees an army in which conscripts would make up no more than 15% of the forces. That would be an epochal change in Russian military culture. Interesting developments to follow, even if you aren’t living in a place that felt the sharp end of Russia’s armed forces recently. (h/t LGM)

Finalité Revisited

Shortly after the big round of EU enlargement in 2004, I took a look at future prospects for enlargement. At the time, I called prospective members, “largely a collection of the poor, ill-governed and recently-at-war.” Most of them are much less recently at war, many of them are better governed, and almost all of them are less poor, yet for all but a few prospects for EU accession seem to me more distant than in 2004.

What has happened?
Continue reading


Kevin Drum makes the mistake of reading McArdle and writes “I have to admit that ‘gigantic earthquake in Japan’ was not on my list of possible flash points for the global economy. And in the end, I don’t think it will be.”

It certainly shouldn’t be, if only because Tokyo Earthquake is probably the most widely used wildcard in any sort of future/scenario planning. Sure, it was a low-probability event at any given time, but over longer terms it had a non-trivial likelihood of coming to pass. From financial markets to supply-chain managers, they all should have a file at hand marked Tokyo Earthquake, and the work — for people far away — now involves dealing with how reality diverges from what was planned. Maybe some international actors will be exposed as having neglected to answer this most obvious of what-ifs, but most will have worked through the possibilities.

Libya: European navies update, and links

Information Dissemination is worried that the norsouthern shore of the Mediterranean is now “ungoverned territory”. This is surely odd – Egypt and Tunisia have entirely functional governments. Surely it’s Libya that’s gone anarchic? It does tell you something about the rules-of-the-road some people have internalised. If it’s not our dictator it doesn’t count as government, and the answer is a US carrier group.

But it’s not as if the Europeans weren’t active, even though there is hardly a foreign secretary on the continent who isn’t dripping with egg on their faces. NATO’s headquarters in Naples, the former AFSOUTH, is the coordinating authority for Operation Atalanta, but it is also responsible for the NATO Response Force, a sizeable fleet led by a Spanish admiral. An impressive European naval force is already in the area, including two of Italy’s San Giorgio-class assault ships, with the French Mistral due to pass close by on her way to the Indian Ocean – you wouldn’t bet on her making the voyage as planned. Two of Spain’s powerful Galicia-class LPDs are with the NRF and may join at any time.

The danger, of course, is what Adam Elkus describes as the temptation of “discrete military operations”, often prompted by moral shame. (There’s plenty of that to go around.) We already seem to be seeing the effects of Clausewitz’s notion of friction
the Dutch Lynx crew and, if rumours are accurate, an SAS patrol, have got into trouble, although the problem for the British seems to be diplomatic rather than anything else. It does, however, point out why these operations shouldn’t be lightly undertaken, no matter how long you’ve been planning.

Meanwhile, in order to help keep things in perspective, Libya was reported to be on the brink of civil war over how to execute Gaddafi.

A very special relationship

One of the defining features, looking back, of the revolution in the Middle East – or will we call it the Southern Mediterranean? – will be just how ugly the relationship between EU and other Western governments and the dictators was. This post from the UK TUC’s policy blog sums it up nicely:

It heralds the collapse of the old EU strategy for the EuroMed region, characterised at the meeting as a mixture of privatisation and migration, or supporting neoliberal economic reforms in ‘stable’, autocratic regimes.

Privatisation and migration – that cuts both ways, of course. The South Mediterranean elites were very well served by this strategy, while an enormous class of underemployed youth built up. On one hand, emigration was a safety valve, reducing the amount of actual violence and repression they needed to use. In that sense, it was a policy that many Mediterranean nations would recognise only too well, especially Italy. But it wasn’t as if the North Mediterranean governments were especially pleased about absorbing the emigrants. While the economic relationship was built on privatisation and migration, the power-political relationship was built on migration and terrorism.

Terrorism is the obvious one – the Southern Med’s security agencies successfully marketed themselves as defenders against an otherwise inevitable take-over by Al-Qa’ida and therefore natural allies for European partner agencies keen to demonstrate their usefulness and alliance commitment to the United States. Migration is less so, but it was another way in which police forces on each side of the Mediterranean cooperated – although it was recognised that people would migrate, the EU was not keen on them coming here, and projects like FRONTEX and NATO’s Operation Atalanta (which straddles both counter-terrorism and migration) put a very significant emphasis on building up military-to-military and police-to-police links.

FBI files are turning up amidst the piles of Viagra, condoms, and firearms in Egypt’s ransacked spook centres. The only conclusion is “Fasten your seat belts – it’s going to be a bumpy night”, as the inevitable, awful revelations start to pour in.

We’ve already had a few, concerning not so much the structure of cross-Mediterranean relations as the personalities. But the personalities and the gossip are an index of the underlying realities. When Michéle Alliot-Marie, successively France’s defence, interior, and foreign minister, spends her holidays with Ben Ali’s crown prince, this should tell us something about the politics of it, and why she made her astonishing offer to help out with those irresponsible rabble outside the Tunisian interior ministry. Tony Blair was perhaps the ultimate exponent of this, supping regularly with both Hosni Mubarak and his North Mediterranean mirror image, Silvio Berlusconi, and encouraging the London School of Economics to do its very best for Gaddafi’s son.

Clearly, it wasn’t just a question of brutal realpolitik, although it was all that. Is it telling that the countries whose governments were most friendly with the South Mediterranean dictators were also the ones with the biggest housing bubbles and – with the exception of the French – the biggest commitment to Iraq?

Now, of course, it’s all become very different.

And it’s one jet airliner, for ten prisoners…

One thing that is perhaps being overlooked by people discussing whether or not it would be wise to impose a no-fly zone over Libya is exactly what such a zone would set out to prevent. When it was first suggested, it was inspired by the general horror that the Libyan government was having crowds of civilians strafed by its Sukhoi 22 close-support aircraft. However, especially since several Libyan Air Force crews defected to Malta and to the revolution, air activity has turned out to be much less significant in what is beginning to look like a classical West- or Central-African civil war, based around Toyota pickups and 23mm Russian anti-aircraft guns and mercenaries paid with the money from exporting some mineral or other. You know the one.

It’s fairly well known that Libya sponsored several of the key warlords of 90s West Africa – Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and several others originally met up in Libyan-funded training camps. Interestingly, not only did one of the versions of Jetline International base itself in Tripoli and trade aircraft back and forth with two of Viktor Bout’s companies, but Gaddafi’s government maintains an impressive airlift capacity. As well as the two flag-carrier airlines, Libyan Arab and Afriqiyah, whose names track the changing priorities of foreign policy, the Air Force operates a semi-commercial cargo wing, Libyan Arab Air Cargo, with a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and even two enormous Antonov-124s, some of very few such aircraft owned outside the former Soviet Union.

I’ve put together a Google spreadsheet of transport-type aircraft with Libyan operators, sorted so that currently active aircraft are at the top, and generated URIs to look them up on, for subscribers, and on, in the two right hand columns.

There are a total of 180 airframes, of which 118 are active. It’s probably worth noting that there was a report that top managers at Afriqiyah had resigned rather than take part in Gaddafi’s war effort, and constant rumours of mercenaries being lifted into airfields in the southern deserts.

The upshot of this is that logistics, rather than tactical air power, might be the most important factor in Gaddafi’s efforts to defeat the Libyan revolution/win the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in combat, the aim might instead be blockade, as a complement to the international financial sanctions already in place. (A ship has recently been stopped in British waters carrying large quantities of freshly printed Libyan currency.)

On the other hand, it also adds complexity and risk to the whole issue. There are still plenty of people who want to leave Libya, and British government-chartered airliners are ferrying some of them from Tunisia to Egypt. It would be a bad business, to say the least, to shoot down an Il-76 full of refugees. It could be better to try to cut off the supply chain at source by grounding Libyan aircraft elsewhere in the world, although this requires the cooperation of those states who are still willing to let them recruit on their territory. Further, imposing a blockade also implies a responsibility for the survival of the civilian population. Sending aid to eastern Libya has already been suggested, of course.

For a little extra, the Russian Demography blog, venturing well out of its usual beat, notes that the Libyan Government’s Dassault Falcon 900EX business jet, 5A-DCN, took a trip to Minsk recently. Its ICAO identifier, useful with virtual-radar sites, is 018019. There are various things the regime might find useful in Belarus – mercenaries, again, small arms (although they don’t appear to be short of them), and perhaps least disturbingly, impunity. (Hat tip.)

(Cross posted from TYR)

Oman too

I’m wondering if the civil war in Libya would mean the Arab 1848 wouldn’t spread to any countries where it hadn’t already built up a good deal of momentum, since people would be afraid protests would lead to chaos. Apart from maybe Yemen, I think the actual risks would be small, partly because the militaries of the other countries are much more stronger and cohesive.

Given that, the protests in Oman are heartening. They became (somwhat) widespread in just the last few days. This should make the Saudis nervous. I haven’t expected protests to become major in any more countries other than maybe Algeria or possibly Morocco. The protests are hardly at Tunisian levels yet, and we don’t know if they will go anywhere, but if Oman, which is wealthy and as far as I know relatively well-governed and not that repressive, can have a revolution, no regime is safe.

war of position

Useful map by Iyad el-Baghdadi of the current state of play in Libya. And here’s Steve Negus’ more detailed Google maps mash up. From the look of things, Gaddafi still controls Tripoli and a strip of territory in the middle of the country from Sirt to Sabha. As reported, Eastern Libya has completely liberated itself, while rebel strongholds now surround the capital. The current key battlegrounds seem to be around Sabha, a point of ingress for Gaddafi’s mercenaries and for control of the road to Tunisia to the west of Tripoli. Via.