Rio to Paris

As media furiously refrain from speculating, it’s odd to be hoping that a lightning strike, an electrical malfunction, or some combination of both was responsible for the crash of an Air France flight that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean last night while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Because there aren’t a whole lot of other possibilities that don’t involve explosions.

While flying between the two cities is far, far safer than driving regularly in either of them, the stratosphere is an unforgiving environment, and the possibility of deliberate harm is also still out there. A sad day for both countries.

A Dirty Europeanism from Beneath

I have just been reading Misha Glenny’s McMafia. It is excellent; an intelligent tour through the criminal landscape that emerged since the late 1980s, driven by a combination of globalisation, un-globalisation, technical change, and the usual things that fertilise big crime. We hear about the early history of the modern Russian mafia, how the UN Security Council created one of the world’s most effective criminal networks by trying to deny the former Yugoslavia cigarettes, and much more.

Some points that stand out:

1 – Networks

A common trend in all the criminal systems Glenny covers is a shift from hierarchical structures to decentralised ones; the four dons who controlled the Bombay underworld up to the late 1980s are replaced by a shifting confederation, mostly independent, vaguely loyal to Dawood Ibrahim in his Dubai fastness. The traditional prison gang hierarchies of Russia and South Africa are replaced by flat networks of crooks. The multi-criminal smuggling route through the Balkans, once authorised and taxed by the Bulgarian secret police, warps into a complicated weave of different ones open to every thug in southeastern Europe.

2 – The Great Shift

Everywhere Glenny went, both cops and thieves always said the same thing in the same way; in the early 1990s, they were in control and then “something odd happened”. New forms of crime; new actors; new communities; new drugs. Similarly, traditions and habits that kept things roughly in limits and facilitated both illicit and licit business were suddenly torn apart. Grand old yakuza chiefs were murdered in their beds; the harbour suddenly filled with shiny speed boats with unusually deep and thoroughly reinforced cockpits. And wham! Nothing was normal ever again.

3 – Fake Police and Police Fakes

So much of this proliferating mayhem was driven by the people who were meant to oppose it. In Russia and Eastern Europe, a major force was the sheer number of spooks and wrestlers looking for a job, and for that matter, the existing smuggling systems set up by people like East German STASI Colonel Alexander von Schalck-Golodkowski to raise hard currency. But even more important were the strategic decisions taken by world powers, which often created the legal barriers around which criminal profit grew. The economic blockade on the former Yugoslavia was one; the drugs war another.

4 – Complicity

The great spree would never have been possible if so many people hadn’t been customers, to say nothing of direct corruption. Japanese banks, during the great bubble, were delighted to cooperate with yakuza thugs; the tobacco industry saw nothing at all unusual in shipping absurd quantities of cigarettes to tiny Swiss cantons, from where they were re-exported on ex-Soviet cargo aircraft that invariably needed to make refuelling stops in Montenegro, during which the ciggies and the export papers vanished. The cigarettes crossed the Adriatic in wild-arsed powerboats into the hands of the newest Italian mafia, the Sacra Corona Unita of Puglia, and went from there to everywhere in Europe. The aircraft went on to the ex-Soviet Union, to Slovakia’s ZTS-Osos and Bulgaria’s KINTEX arsenals, and brought back arms for the Balkan wars, bought with the government’s share of the profits.

Similarly, the iconic European industrial achievement, GSM, used huge quantities of rare minerals from central Africa and the ex-Soviet Union, which arrived on some of the same aircraft, backloaded from further arms shipments after the Balkan wars were over and the region became an arms exporter again. It’s worth remembering that the secret police of Yugoslavia were well aware of arms dealing, having been a big exporter before the Balkan wars. And, more broadly, millions used prostitutes, smoked dodgy cigarettes, and took cocaine.

5 – The Boss Fallacy

So many cops Glenny quotes had the same experience; they finally caught the Big Boss, but everything got worse afterwards. Once the old sheikh was nailed, they expected the crime rate to fall, but instead something odd happened; all hell broke loose. It wasn’t just that the crooks fought among themselves, which the cops usually welcomed. It was that they competed harder, and that the rules and traditions and habits that usually constrained them were torn away with the traditional hierarchy. Suddenly there were no rules, or rather, there was a savage fight to set the new ones.

And killing the hierarchy changed things more subtly. The structure of the underworld changed; it became decentralised, federal, anarchist. The old hierarchies were repurposed to legitimise the new gangs, which meant that their mythos of leadership and of terror could be extended to anyone whose outfit joined the confederation. Arguably, the new structures were not just more survivable but more efficient and more scalable than the old ones.
On the other hand…

Looking across this shady landscape, though, there are some bright spots. There is something inspiring about the vigour of it all, the refusal to listen to the government, the company, the Big Don, or any other authority. The European Union was very keen to talk revolution in the East, much less to open the doors. But long before they were opened in 2004, unofficial Europe was working hard. And, in fact, it had been at it for years; Ameisenhändler at the Bahnhof Zoo, gastarbeiter from Yugoslavia working all over the continent, InterRailers, university system administrators hooking up X.25 and IP links. I remember that one day in 1995, cheap smokes and Czech lager and high-powered German fireworks suddenly arrived in our valley in the Yorkshire Dales, sold weekly in one of our local pubs. The bus route from Leeds to Osnabrück, a subsidised liberty-bus for BAOR soldiers, was also a clubber-transfer link before the arrival of EasyJet.

Practical Europe, of a sort. Crime is nothing if not practical. One of the telling things about McMafia, as it applies to Europe, is just what a society Europe could have been in the last 15 years with a little more courage early on. And we did pretty well anyway.

A European option in Afghanistan

What to do in Afghanistan? It’s essentially impossible that there will ever be enough international troops available to mount a huge counter-insurgency effort to crush the Taliban; renewed big-scale civil war doesn’t bear thinking about. And at the moment, much of the international effort there is counterproductive and fairly immoral. Don’t ask me; ask hugely influential counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen, who makes the obvious point that air strikes into the Hindu Kush probably aren’t helping win the support of the people.

Surely, what we need is a solution under which a reasonable Afghan government would be left in place, the intrusion of foreign forces, their road convoys, fortified camps, heavy weapons, and inflationary spending removed, and as many pieces of the diverse coalition of forces that make up the Taliban reconciled? Perhaps there is one; but first, it’s necessary to remove some of our preconceptions. Everyone knows about Afghanistan, right? Soviet invasion, daring resistance, Western secret aid, eventual withdrawal in 1989, mujahedin triumph, and then it all goes horribly wrong.

Well, this is actually quite misleading. The war began before the Soviet intervention, and in a sense even earlier, in the form of the bitter internal troubles inside the Afghan communist movement. More importantly, the mujahedin/future civil warriors/further future Taliban didn’t win in 1989. To considerable surprise, they failed to take even one town from the Afghan government until 1992. Many important mujahedin leaders were willing to be reconciled with the government as long as the Red Army was withdrawn and, of course, the government made it worth their while. The ones who fought on only succeeded because all assistance to the Afghan government was cut off at the end of the Soviet Union – which included things like wheat, diesel fuel, cash, and ammunition.

In fact, the withdrawal was about the best idea the Soviets had in Afghanistan. Having decided to go, they pursued a policy of building up the Afghan government, changing the military strategy to one based on defending the bulk of the population (to stop this happening) and leaving the mountain wilds to the enemy, pouring in aid of all kinds, negotiation with those who were willing, and leaving a strong advisory mission in place. Here is a US Army study of the withdrawal (pdf); I should hope we could avoid providing the Afghan police with their own ballistic missiles. Seriously – the Najibullah government insisted on having its own Scuds, and assigned them to a unit of the secret police. They eventually fired over 300 of the things.

But the principles apply quite well. Turn down the intensity of the war. Don’t state an explicit timetable, to retain bargaining power. Pursue population security. Build up Afghan authorities. Deliver aid and a strong advisory mission. Open all-party talks. And start removing foreign combat forces. Interestingly, polls of Afghan public opinion, for what they are worth, seem to suggest this may be a good idea.

According to the US Army study, the continuing assistance to the Afghan government cost the Soviet Union about $3-4bn annually – obviously those are 1989 dollars, but in the light of the huge cost of maintaining manoeuvre brigades in Afghanistan (twice as much as Iraq), that’s got to be better. The Soviet aid airlift consisted of 15 Il-76 aircraft a day; currently about 15 mixed Il-76 and AN-12 head to Afghanistan from the UAE a day from the private sector. You could call it a civilian surge if you like; you could also call it ending the Afghan war, if you’re a German Christian Democrat. Certainly, you’d have to involve Iran from the word go – after all, they have the only railhead near Afghanistan and plan to build the railway on into the country. It could be the shortest way from Europe.

It’s got to beat more wedding parties, with the twist that the Russians get to play politics with every transit shipment. Speaking of Russians, however, the man we want to hear from is Makhmut Gareev, who led the Soviet advisors after 1989. Call it the European option.

Hit and Run

North and south of the Caucasus mountains:

Azerbaijan’s air force commander was shot and killed as he left his home on the morning of February 11 … Lt-Gen. Rail Rzayev, the head of Azerbaijan’s Air Force and Anti-Aircraft Defense Force, was shot in the head as he was sitting in a Mercedes in front of his Baku apartment building. Doctors at a military hospital could not save 64-year-old Rzayev’s life, the Interior Ministry announced. … Rzayev had served as Azerbaijan’s air force commander since 1992, after previously heading Baku’s anti-aircraft defenses. …

Most recently, in December 2008, Rzayev attracted media attention after reports surfaced that Azerbaijani military planes had forced a helicopter carrying Minister of Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov to land. No official explanations were issued for the incident. Azerbaijani mainstream media outlets, however, reported that Heydarov, arguably the government’s most influential minister, had failed to inform the Anti-Aircraft Defense Forces about his flight, allegedly to his villa in the central Gabala region. …

Lt. Gen. Rzayev was among those Azerbaijani generals who strongly opposed any compromise resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia, noted Rauf Mirgadirov, political columnist for the Russian-language daily Zerkalo (The Mirror).

Azerbaijani military politics are murky, to say the least, but this bears watching.

Speaking of murky, the murder of a Chechen in Austria may have some interesting fingerprints on it:

A Chechen refugee killed in Vienna last month was the key witness in an Austrian criminal investigation into Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov that could have led to Kadyrov’s arrest last year, prosecutors and lawyers said Wednesday.

The revelation fuels speculation that the killing of Umar Israilov, a former bodyguard of Kadyrov, was aimed at silencing a vocal critic of the Chechen leadership. Israilov was gunned down on Jan. 13, just four days after The New York Times informed the Russian government that it was planning to publish a report based on interviews with him implicating Kadyrov of murder and torture. …
Israilov last year offered information implicating Kadyrov of torture and murder to a team of lawyers in Austria and Germany, who in turn asked Vienna prosecutors to arrest Kadyrov during an expected visit to Austria for the European football championship, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights said Wednesday. …
Around the same time as the request for the arrest, Austrian police arrested a Chechen man who claimed that he had been sent by Kadyrov to kill Israilov, Der Falter reported Wednesday, citing police records.
Jarosch said the case of the Chechen man was not pursued because Austrian prosecutors believed and still believe that they lack jurisdiction.

Oops. Now that Israilov is dead, Austria may have jurisdiction. At least for one crime.

Prosecutors have arrested seven suspects in Israilov’s death, all ethnic Chechens, and five remain in prison, Jarosch said. He said it was not clear whether the killer was among them.

What’s wrong with the phrase ‘war on terror’?

Normblog – ‘the weblog of Norman Geras’ – is often quite good and I read it when I get the chance, but this recent post of his was pretty bad. Norman says that those who, like Shirley Williams, dislike the phrase ‘war on terror’ have “trouble coming up with compelling reasons for their dislike” of that phrase.

Specifically, Norman argues, crime is not exclusively a civil affair: actions against criminals may include actions of war. I think Norman’s making some sort of synecdochal error here. Wars are always fought between political entities and hence in a war there are always multiple actors – both leaders and followers – on both sides. This has major implications for considerations of criminality and legitimacy.

All actors in a war (it’s assumed) are willing to use violence; that is to do, in wartime, things which in peacetime would be considered criminal. This said, some may do things which even in the special circumstances of war will be considered criminal. These are war criminals, and they may well include the leaders of a side. Other war leaders may be considered criminal for things they did before war explicitly began. Perhaps their involvement in starting war is their crime. Nonetheless, when you’re fighting a war leader (criminal or otherwise) you’re very likely not fighting him in person; you’re fighting his army. Your opposition to Tojo, say, may be founded in his criminality but your use of violence is legitimised by the fact that millions on Tojo’s side – some of whom won’t ever be thought criminal – present a threat to you which can only be countered by use of violence. After all, if it were just Tojo, you’d send in the police. The police can’t get to Tojo because of his army? Frustrating, yes, but not in itself justification for violence.

And so – the standard criticism goes – use of the phrase ‘war on terror’ suggests that we are under threat in a way which justifies violence, as in a war. If we disagree that this is so, then naturally we won’t want to hear the phrase ‘war on terror’ used in political discourse by way of presenting options for action. Our situation has been described incorrectly. The ‘war on terror’ is only a metaphor? (I think Norman has been misled by this one, somehow.) Maybe. But then, I can take it, so is the call to send in the air force. Count me with Shirley Williams.

A soda with Karadzic

Just wanted to link to this post about meeting Radovan Karadzic in prison. The writer comes across as a bit naive — gosh, the ICTY cell block is dingy! Karadzic, a former politician turned New Age guru, comes across as charming and at ease with himself! — but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Key point for me: his claim that Karadzic won’t try to turn his trial into a circus as Seselj and Milosevic did. Color me skeptical on that one. We’ll see soon enough.

Real action heroes don’t justify

The doctrine of double effect has bugged me for some time. It probably doesn’t help that double effect is usually tagged as Catholic, and in that connection we have Blair’s Catholicism … and Iraq … and the self-exculpatory speechifying, and now the middle east peace envoy business. Double effect: it’s all mixed up in there somehow. Obviously I’m not going to like it.

But what’s going on with double effect anyway? Roughly, it’s a doctrine that says we can make a distinction between actual effects on the basis that not all effects were intended, even if all effects were correctly predicted. Hence, someone who in a single act brought about both a good effect and a bad effect may be excused if:

(1) He or she intended the good effect and not the bad effect, and;

(2) The resultant good effect did in some way compensate for the bad effect.

A double effect advocate who wants to finesse things might add that the bad effect mustn’t precede the good effect in a causal chain. There’s potential for fuzziness here, but what makes double effect unattractive isn’t some difficulty with causation. If the doctrine of double effect is going to be your guide in deciding whether or not to do something, you’re first going to have to work out who will judge what, and when. On condition (1) above, seemingly the actor carries a special burden of judgement: he or she must single out and focus on a good effect, so as to intend it. Whatever ‘intending’ involves, surely no one else can do it but the intender. But on condition (2) above, it’s not at all clear how the judgement of the good compensating for the bad is to be made. Is it the actor who gets to make this judgement, or his or her peers? A government agency? A court of law? And when do they get to judge? The doctrine doesn’t give us criteria for deciding this. It’s not interested.

Of course, other people (neighbours, end users, professionals) do tend to take an interest, depending on what’s proposed. To take Chris Bertram’s example from the recent thread about this on Unspeak: let’s say that you, as an adherent of the doctrine of double effect, propose a bridge-building project. You expect some people will die, but to have a connection from here to there will be good, and it’s the connection you intend, so you proceed. Except that you don’t, because most places with governments exercise oversight of anything larger than the construction of a hen house. You say: ten people will (likely) die building my bridge. The government, in response, says: this bridge (a revised design) is better because although there’ll be one successful and two attempted suicides over the next fifty years, no one will die during construction. Build this bridge instead. The burden for deciding (2) has been taken on by the state, on behalf of interested parties. Additionally, even though the burden for acting in accordance with (1) officially remains with the actor, his or her options are more likely than not shaped by the presence of an outside interest. After all, society, insofar as it can be said to want something, wants us to think of good effects, not bad ones. The upshot? An agent who invites the views of others in an effort to satisfy (2) limits the agency implied by (1).

In short, the doctrine of double effect tends to offer itself as a doctrine for moral lone rangers. My personal finding is that in most cases where heavy moving is planned, there’s a happier result when advice of parties with an interest is actually followed. Just ask; it might even be the law. Even if it’s not the law, it’s likely that someone cares. For bridge-building, seek advice from engineers (and the neighbours). For bombing, seek advice from air force generals (and the bombed).

5,000 Terrorist Targets = War with Pakistan

Very, very worrying news from India and Pakistan. I especially don’t like all the stuff about school textbooks.

On Friday, India warned its citizens to stay away from Pakistan, claiming that they were in danger from agencies “that operate outside the law and civilian control”. Yesterday’s newspaper reports reflected increasingly frenzied war speculation. “Pak army on the march” was the headline in the Hindustan Times, while the Times of India – which led its Christmas Day edition with the headline “Pak whips itself into war frenzy” – reported that Pakistan had stepped up its “war moves”. Claims by Pakistan that Indian nationals had been arrested in connection with a Christmas Eve car bombing in Lahore were also angrily dismissed. Anand Sharma, an Indian external affairs minister, called the reports “hogwash”.

Although some in the Indian media have urged caution, there has been a spate of anti-Pakistan stories since the Mumbai attacks. Yesterday’s Times of India carried a front-page report headlined “Pak textbooks foster hate against India” which claimed that “venom against India is officially promoted to infect young minds in Pakistani schools” and asserted that terrorism in Pakistan had its roots in a culture of hate.

Yelling about the other side’s maps and school textbooks is a telltale symptom of nationalist hysteria. Also, look what the head of the Indian Air Force Western Command is saying:

Air Marshal PK Barbora, chief of India’s western air command, said that the air force had identified 5,000 terrorist targets inside Pakistani territory.

Five thousand terrorist targets? I’d bet there aren’t five thousand actual terrorists in Pakistan, as opposed to people who might agree with them, or think the Pakistani government is just looking for an excuse to bring its tax-collectors into their valley when it talks about terrorists. Terrorism is by definition a small-team pursuit; otherwise it wouldn’t be terrorism, it would be ordinary war.

Now, let’s remember a classic post on this blog. Back in February, 2007, the National Security Archive at George Washington University got hold of the original slides from the briefing document on war with Iraq. The heaviest air bombardment the planning study included foresaw 3,000 individual aiming points from 2,100 aircraft sorties, the difference being made up by an unknown mix of multiple-target missions and Tomahawk missiles. This was designed to wreck the Iraqi military and military-industrial complex thoroughly. The Pakistani officer here is suggesting a minimum of 5,000 aiming points.

Even compared to the Iraqi military-industrial complex at its hubristic height immediately after the Iran-Iraq war, with its nuclear programme, satellite-launch programme, T-72 tanks and indigenous airborne early-warning aircraft, it would be fair to say that the Pakistani one is a much more complex complex, with the benefit of years more investment and both US and Chinese support, to say nothing of the nuclear system and the secret AQ Khan procurement-network. So the first thing we have to conclude that Air Marshal P.K. Barbora is floating not just an operation directed at Lashkar-e-Toiba, or even ISI facilities, but a conventional blitz intended to wreck the Pakistani Air Force, the nuclear system, and as much of the ISI, the Army, the Navy and the defence industries and strategic infrastructure as he has aircraft left for.

Air Marshals always want this, of course. It goes without saying that he couldn’t launch something like this without an epic air battle and a ferocious Pakistani counterattack of some sort. Barbora’s command has a mixture of MiG-21, MiG-23/27, MiG-29, and SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft; the -21s, -23s and -29s are mostly assigned to air defence roles, the -27s to close support of the army, and the Jaguars are India’s premier strike aircraft. Among other things, their role includes carrying part of the nuclear deterrent. There are 108 of these; 6 are assigned to a maritime role in the Southern command. It is fair to say the rest will be facing Pakistan. An operation of this size would also involve the South-Western command and the Central command; the Central command controls most of the 110 Sukhoi 30 fighters and the 39 Dassault Mirage 2000-5 aircraft, some of which would be assigned a strike/attack role. The Sukhoi 30s are officially there as a pure fighter, but it’s unrealistic to imagine that given a latest-generation aircraft they won’t take any opportunity to get into the fray.

Therefore we can say there are about 150 serious strike aircraft available. There are also the four Tu-22M3 bombers, theoretically reserved for operations at sea. However, the fact the Russians lost one over Georgia may well dissuade them from looking for trouble. A big variable is the percentage of the MiG-27 fleet which will be held back for the Army – the Western command has many of them, but also has Kashmir and the critical Route 1 into Kashmir on its plate. Just using the Jaguars, Mirages, and any Sukhois assigned to the job, 5,000 aiming points would be attacked in 17 days at 2 sorties/aircraft/day. It’s fair to rule out many missions covering more than one target – this won’t be Afghanistan or even Iraq or even Iran. Pakistan has a lot of rather old but much-upgraded Mirage IIIs, Chinese-made MiG-21s, 44 F-16s (which are pre-1984 -A and -B models), and some very new Chinese JF-17s that really, nobody knows much about. Assuming 75% serviceability, it would be a theoretical 23 day campaign, but this doesn’t count the major commitment of fighters and defence suppression aircraft.

Clearly, however, there is no quick and relatively safe option. If Indian planning is anything like Barbora’s remarks, this means major war, with the certainty of the biggest air battle in living memory, the near certainty of a major mountain battle in Kashmir, a significant risk of the armies fighting out a battle of manoeuvre further south, and some risk of nuclear war.

I finished that post by saying that there would probably be no war with Iran. I can’t say that about India and Pakistan.