Afghanistan, seen from Berlin

The Globalist’s Stephan Richter weighs the pros and cons, difficulties and opportunities of an increased German military involvement in Southern Aghanistan and comes to the – in my opinion correct – conclusion that increased combat participation is much less a domestic policy problem than it is usually thought to be.

It’s a tricky question because the American example of nation-building as exercised in Afghanistan is not a particularly convincing one … The Germans truly believe in a different concept. It basically says that, in the long run, you cannot quell violence unless there is a bright future on the horizon. … But since Germans rightfully believe that there is good reason not to let Afghanistan slip back into a state of lawlessness and anarchy, they have to embrace an enlarged role — which implies more sacrifices. However, this must be part of a well thought – out strategy and not only another quick fix.

Solidarity with allies in the common fight is of utmost importance, but what do you do if you’re responsible for the lives of the soldiers you send, believe the common strategy to be seriously flawed, endanger the results achieved in the North, but you don’t really have the clout to change it? Exactly. You send some planes.

From Vancouver to Vladivostok

Not unlike the cold old days, the US and Russia have been at odds over the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the recent ministerial meeting in Brussels (Belgium currently has the OSCE’s rotating chairmanship), the Russian ambassador complained about an imbalance in the Organisation’s work, specifically that too much emphasis was being put on the “human dimension.” That’s an OSCE bit of jargon that covers things like free and fair elections, protection of human rights and so forth. (This was all reported in the German newspaper whose web site could be better organized, page 6 of the December 5 edition, but can one find the article on said web site? No. Try here, instead, as long as the link lasts.)

Ambassador Lavrov said that the OSCE should give equal focus to the military and economic aspects of security and cooperation in Europe. This is kind of a nutty thing for a Russian ambassador to be saying.
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So what does the US *really* think of EU defence?

Getting away from the eternal baboon threat displays and absurd disinformation for a moment, what do we know about EU and US defence? The lazy/cowardly/decadent/anti-imperialist Euros refuse to do anything, spend any money, or fight, and the US is permanently and increasingly stronger, right? Let’s see what the professionals think. The latest issue of Parameters, the journal of the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute at Fort Carlisle, is out and it’s a special on Europe. (Mmm, a treat.)

Stephen J. Coonen writes that the EU’s efforts in the security arena should not be seen as competitive with NATO, but complementary and providing means to act if NATO does not – something which cannot be overemphasised enough, in my opinion. He assesses EU and US capabilities and concludes that the power gap is small, and specifically concentrated in a few areas such as strategic airlift and satellite reconnaissance. He argues that “sound plans” exist to reduce the gaps, for example, the NATO C-17 purchase and the SALIS project, which jointly leases Antonov-124 aircraft to support NATO and EU-RRF operations, the Anglo-French Stormshadow missile and more (see note 29, if you’re like that, or for a more sensational argument read all about France’s latest ICBM test).
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Dutch troops tortured prisoners in Iraq

In November 2003 Dutch Military Intelligence tortured dozens of prisoners in the Iraq province of Al Muthanna. Al Muthanna was under British command at the time. The Dutch did not have an official mandate to interrogate prisoners. Torture consisted of keeping prisoners awake by throwing cold water on them and the use of high-frequency noise and bright light. The venue was a complex of the Coalition Provisional Authority in As Samawah.

Later more. For the time being there is still a lot of denial and obfuscation. Dutch newspaper article here.

Meanwhile in an EU Candidate State

From Lebanon’s Daily Star:

Turkey on Monday appointed a general who is expected to adopt a tougher line toward EU negotiations to replace the head the country’s powerful military, who was widely considered a moderate. The change in leadership, which was widely anticipated, comes as Turkey is insisting that Washington do more to crack down on Turkish Kurdish rebels operating out of bases in northern Iraq…

Buyukanit raised eyebrows this year by praising a soldier subsequently jailed for a bombing believed to be aimed at stirring up unrest in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The bombing triggered riots in the region and a parliamentary inquiry.

Analysts say Buyukanit’s no-nonsense views have been shaped by the time he spent in the southeast during the 1990s, heyday of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is now seen as weakened but far from defeated.

“Buyukanit is more pro-American, more security-minded than Ozkok. He is not against the Europeanization of Turkey but he is more influenced by nationalist tendencies,” said Hussein Bagci of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University.

“He will be much tougher in the fight against the PKK.”

Hmm…

Security-minded is what one would usually expect a general to be, but the key question will be how broadly he defines the interests of Turkish society. Has he kept up with changes, or will he try to turn the clock back?

I’m not at all sure that “no-nonsense” is the proper way to describe someone who advocates purely military solutions to Kurdish issues in Turkey. In fact, that view is full of nonsense, as much of the 1980s and 1990s demonstrate.

And just what a “tougher line toward the EU” means is another question. The EU line (and the NATO line, for that matter) is that civilian governments control the national military, full stop. The fact that the political views of a Turkish general are a matter of interest is itself a sign of the distance still to go for Turkey. Questions like this are a normal part of accession — Greece’s military junta ended its rule just seven years before that country joined the EC; there were worries early on about Poland’s military (a legacy of Col. Pilsudski in the inter-war era); Spain and Portugal probably had to address the issue as well, given Franco and Salazar.

Bears watching.

Eurabia or Fantasyland?

Victor David Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, has written an open letter to Europe asking us to “reawake, rediscover your heritage, and join with us in defending the idea of the West from this latest illiberal scourge of Islamic fascism.” It is getting some play in the usual right-wing quarters, despite his extraordinary lack of knowledge about Europe – and that’s a kind interpretation; others might suggest (as does Gary Brecher, here, analysing his take on Iraq) that he is simply making things up.
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Words Said In More Than Jest

This news is surely not as grave as it seems, but the placing under house arrest of the commander of the Spanish Land Forces is hardly to be taken as a trifle. In a move which is reminiscent of the environment surrounding the military coup of 1981., the decision of Defence Minister José Bono to place Lt. Gen. Jose Mena Aguado under house arrest and relieve him of his duties may seem to be a strong one (Aguado was to have resigned in only a few months), as there is really surely no imminent danger of a military coup. It does however reveal just how sensitive the issue is in a country which has seen both civil war and attempted Coup d’Etat. The military is definitely not a welcome participant in the political process here.

What exactly did Aguado do? Well essentially he chose the opportunity of an occassion which is something like army day’ to cite in a speech a clause in the Spanish constitution that calls on the armed forces to intervene if needed to guarantee the unity, independence and sovereignty of Spain, using the example of the proposed reform to the Catalan Statute of Autonomy as an explicit case in point. He did not specify how he thought the armed forces should intervene.

So the rapid response of Bono is both welcome, and unsurprising, what is more surprising – or given recent events, perhaps it isn’t – is the reaction of the opposition Partido Popular:

Only the right wing Popular Party, the most vociferous opponent of the Catalan charter, pulled back from condemning the officer, saying his comments were the logical result of the uncertainty triggered by the charter debate.

So those who claim to be the staunchest defenders of the Spanish constitution turn out to be the most blasé when someone rattles some sabres which might actually threaten its integrity.

The Giuliana Sgrena Story

I have to confess that I’m utterly mystified by this story.

Short recap for those who haven’t followed the events. Giuliana Sgrena, an Italian journalist for Il Manifesto and contributor to the German Zeit, was abducted outside of Baghdad on February 4. The outrage was great – Italians went on the streets to protest and demand her release, the Zeit magazine dedicated an entire section with articles, pleas and reports to Ms. Sgrena.

13 days into her abduction, a video surfaced in which a haggard, terrified, tear-choking Sgrena pleas for an end of the Italian engagement in Iraq. It was a chilling document and no one who saw it was left untouched.

The Italian government promised to do everything to secure her release — short of calling its troops home.
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Ukraine roundup

I’ve just got time for a quick roundup of the latest developments in Ukraine.

First, and most importantly, the Supreme Court has suspended publication of the election result while it considers the case brought to it by Yuschenko. This is probably more routine than a sign of any clear intent on the part of the Court, but it does indicate that they’re taking the complaint seriously and are not dismissing it out of hand, as happened with a case Yuschenko brought earlier in the week, I believe.

Also, according to The Periscope, Kazakhstan, China, and Armenia have recognized Yanukovych – probably unaware of the Supreme Court decision to not decide today.

Second, the EU/Russia summit took place today, though there doesn’t seem to be anything concrete coming out of that yet. The official report from the summit is here (pdf file) and it’s more interesting in what it doesn’t say about Ukraine. Note that almost every other issue mentions refers to the EU and Russia jointly agreeing whereas Ukraine was merely the subject of an ‘exchange of views’. I think we have to wait for a statement from Solana (or possibly Barroso or Balkenende) to find out more. On the same note, Solana’s address to the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday can be foung here (also a pdf)

The situation in Ukraine itself appears to be developing into a standoff – Victor and friends keep posting at The Periscope and it seems to be following the same pattern as the last couple of days – rumours of movements of troops and miners, coupled with announcements of official support for Yuschenko from various locations. The latest news is that the Deputy Economy Minister has resigned and said he is ‘with the people’ and rumours are that Yanukovich is trying to make sure he has the loyalty of the rest of the Cabinet, particularly energy ministers. Maidan continues to post reports of military commanders stating they are with Yuschenko.

The protest in Independence Square continues, of course, while strikes are taking place across the country in support of Yuschenko.

There are also reports that Lech Walesa has tried to negotiate, but hasn’t achieved anything. He’s supposed to be holding a press conference around now, but there are no reports yet.

Via Harry, PORA now have an online petition up which they’re asking people to sign.

And quickly around the blogs – something new from Neeka, Le Sabot has photos and background.

Update: (Tobias 18:11 CET) One more night to come up with a solution. In other good news, after having been approached by numerous government officials as well as cnocerned citizens, lieutenant-general Mykhaylo Kutsyn, officer in chief of the Western Operational Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces stated that ?[his] actions are directed towards unquestioning fulfillment of the law and Constitution of Ukraine and [he] officially declare[d] that divisions of the Western Operational Command will not fight their own people.?

That is certainly good news. Although I am not at all familiar with the Ukrainian military organization – I assume, given the East-West cleavage, it would be important to get a similar stament from the other Operational Commanders. (via Maidan.net)

Update: (Tobias, 19:24 CET) Jamie of bloodandtreasure has a useful link to a Ukrainian military guide at globalsecurity.org.
Apparently, Ukraine has three regional military commands, Western, Northern, and Southern (see this map). Kyev is situated in the Northern military command.

Update: (Tobias, 21:17 CET) The showdown may have begun. Victor Katolyk reports that, following a “declaration of truth” by several hundred Ukrainian television employees, several tv stations have begun broadcasting “real” news. While several hundred Policemen appear to have pledged allegiance to the people, and former Deputy Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko apparently declared the beginning of a seige of Presidential Administration, Cabinet of Ministers, and the Parliament, there are also reports of pressure on Supreme Courst judges and their families to rule in favor of Mr Yanukovich.

While Russian President Putin, speaking at the EU-Russian summit in The Hague, remained firm that the victory of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich was “absolutely clear”, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende finally clearly rejected the results as forged: “The election did not meet the international standards. Therefore the EU is not able to accept the result.” Maidan.net reports that the European Parliament will hold an emergency session devoted entirely to the situation in Ukraine next week.

It could become a serious problem that President Putin has gone further than even the Ukrainian administration in “ruling out” any kind of negotiation and accusing the West of stirring violence in Kyev. Moreover, for the moment, Russia seems not concerned about developing an exit strategy, but is fueling the flames – according to EUbusiness.com, “the president of the foreign affairs committee of the State Duma lower house of parliament, Konstantin Kossachev, also made clear on Thursday it was time for Russia to defend its territory, after a period of letting the West ‘back such or such a leader of such or such a country of the post-Soviet space, as long as they were pro-Western and therefore anti-Russian'”.

Such an official statement about Ukraine being Russian property will likely be counterproductive should it become widely known in Ukraine.

Update: (Tobias, 22:33 CET) The FT wonders if Ukrainian Oligarchs, who have supported Yanukovich and clearly stood to gain from his victory, are now beginning to think about hedging their bets.

Most remain wedded to Mr Yanukovich, especially the barons of his political heartlands in the industrialised Donetsk region. But a few are beginning to wonder whether Mr Yanukovich still offers the best protection for their interests.

Many are also coming under pressure from employees who are openly supporting Mr Yushchenko – putting up posters in factories and workplaces and taking time off for demonstrations.

Update: (Nick 0005 CET) The Times has a map showing the breakdown of the votes in the elections

Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.
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