Tag Archives: war

Are Russia and NATO on a Path to War?

Following the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, the international media quickly speculated that Russia and Turkey were on a warpath. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for an emergency meeting of the group, a move which Russia described as an escalation. The downing of the Russian jet marks the first direct engagement between NATO and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War.

The issue at the heart of the current crisis was the subject of intense dispute. The Russian government maintains that the Russian aircraft were striking Islamic State targets in northern Syria, when Turkish fighter jets engaged and shot down a Russian plane. Turkey maintains that Russia was striking Turkmen rebel forces, repeatedly crossing into Turkish airspace and ignoring multiple warnings to leave Turkish airspace before being fired on. Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan condemned the event, which he said was provoked by a Russian violation of Turkish airspace and an infringement of Turkish sovereignty. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov implied the act was premeditated, stating that the downing “looks very much like a planned provocation.” He ordered the deployment of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Syria.

In addressing the situation, US President Barak Obama called on both Russia and Turkey to “take measures to avoid escalation.” But Russian intervention in Syria has complicated American and NATO allies efforts to fight the Islamic State in Syria. American strategy has been to oppose both ISIS and the Syrian government, supporting rebel forces in the region and striking ISIS targets from the air. Russian intervention has centered on supporting the Syrian government. While the Russian government maintains that its intervention is focused on defeating ISIS, Russian airstrikes have been condemned by the West for primarily targeting anti-government forces.

What do you think? Are NATO and Russia on a path to war? How might the situation in Turkey (and relatedly in Syria) be resolved to prevent further escalation?

Reconsidering US Intervention in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, who previously served as interim Minister of Oil and Deputy Prime Minister in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, died yesterday. Chalabi was a Shiite Iraqi who studied in the United States, ultimately becoming a key adviser for the neoconservative advisers who shaped President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He is perhaps most well-known for his role in pushing for US intervention to remove Hussein from power in 2003. Indeed, Chalabi was a key asset for the US intelligence agencies, asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”

What do you think? Knowing what we do now about Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was US intervention to remove Hussein warranted? Should the United States have invaded Iraq? Why?

Addressing Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

High-ranking security representatives from the governments of North and South Korea met yesterday, attempting to walk-back a two week period of escalating tensions. The meetings came at the request of the North Korean government, just a day after it threatened “total war” with South Korea. Observers suggest that the North Korean regime may be becoming increasingly unstable, and some fear that war remains a strong possibility between the two states.

What do you think? Is war between North Korea and South Korea likely? What, if anything, might be done to prevent direct military conflict between the two countries? And given historical US support for South Korea and Chinese support for North Korea, what global implications might increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula have?

The Resurgence of the Ukrainian Crisis

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was on CNN yesterday and claimed that there were 10,000 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. As part of a plea to the West to help train and equip the Ukrainian military, he also suggested the Minsk Protocol was still viable. Negotiated in late 2014, the Minsk agreement included provisions establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine and mandated the withdrawal of heavy weapons and combat aircraft from  a “line of contact” crossing the eastern part of the country.

To date, the West has been hesitant to take a more proactive stance against Russia. At the G-7 summit over the weekend, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement agreeing to leave economic sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk Protocol was fully implemented. At the same time, Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for the Presidency, issued a blistering statement in Germany yesterday, suggesting that President Obama’s permissive stance towards Russia precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, and demanding the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.

What do you think? What factors are driving Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Is Bush right? Should the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia? And if so, what exactly would that involve? What responsibility, if any, do the United States and the European Union have to address the resurgent crisis in Ukraine? Why?

Social Media and the New Frontiers of War

According to a press conference statement by US Air Force General Hawk Carlisle, a selfie posted to a social media sight by an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) fighter led to a successful US airstrike against an ISIS command-and-control facility in Syria. The airstrike follows the announcement that between 10 and 13,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since US operations began, but that the overall strength of ISIS remained unaffected due to successful recruitment of new fighters by the organization.

ISIS has made effective use of social media to recruit new fighters, reaching a following of more than 200,000 through Twitter and other social media sites. But as the story suggests, the organization’s use of social media represents a double-edged sword, as it provides its opponents with intelligence regarding the organization’s operations and status.

What do you think? How has the use of social media affected the conduct of war in the 21st century? How will future conflicts (military, economic, or otherwise), look different as a result of social connectivity? How does the recent report of Chinese hacking into US federal employee databases fit into this context? And how should governments adapt to the new landscape?

The Long-Term Challenges of Syria and the Challenge of Multiple Crises

Syrian Children Crossing a Street

Syrian Children Crossing a Street

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is drawing new attention to the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria on the country’s youth. The report noted that some 5.5 million children require assistance because of war—a figure that has doubled in less than a year. Some 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict, many as the result of deliberate action on the part of combatants. The report also warned that children face “deep developmental and emotional scars” that will continue long after the fighting ends.

Simon Ingram, UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Chief of Communication warned that, “Here we are talking about the hidden injuries, the hidden wounds that have been inflicted on children because of what they have experienced; the behavioral changes, the nightmares that they carry around with them – the way in which they can no longer function as normal children do.  And, this is an aspect of the crisis, which has been too often overlooked, but which is growing all the time.”

And yet as the crisis in the Crimea and Ukraine evolves, attention to Syria on the international scene appears to be waning. And more to the point, cooperation between the United States and Russia in attempting to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program appears to have been placed on the back burner after the two countries found themselves on opposite sides of the crisis in Crimea. The Ukrainian crisis has also helped to shape Turkey’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 30.

What do you think? Can reports like those issued this week by Unicef help to draw international attention back to the crisis in Syria? Are decision makers able to focus on multiple crises and issues—the situation in Syria, Ukraine/Crimea, Turkey, etc.—at the same time? Why? How do the breaking of multiple crises affect foreign policy decision making? What determines which issue rises to the fore?

Water Wars

The Tigris River

The Tigris River. Photo by Charles Fred

A NASA study released earlier this week concluded that freshwater losses in the Middle East are increasing. Using satellite data, scientists confirmed that between 2003 and 2010, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins (an area that includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, lost 144 cubic kilometers of stored freshwater, an area about the same size as the Dead Sea. Most of the losses are associated with increasing levels of freshwater consumption from groundwater stores.

Blogging at Foreign Policy, Marya Hannun notes that the countries implicated in the study already suffer from a high level of instability, resulting from border disputes, conflicts over Kurdish minorities, and ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Could disputes over water resources add to that list of irretraceable disputes?

Concerns over resource wars have longed plagued foreign policy makers. Indeed, water itself has been implicated in several recent conflicts, though most observers have concluded that water conflicts tend to arise as a result of other, preexisting tensions, rather than serving as the primary or proximate cause itself. Nevertheless, some fear that increasing demand for water may intensify existing concerns. Already, more than 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. The US Director of National Intelligence in 2012 concluded that the risk of conflict over water would continue to increase, as water demand would outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030.  A United nations Report concluded that 47 percent of the world’s population would be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. The hardest hit regions would be in the developing world, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen could all face scarce supplies.

What do you think? Will future wars be fought primarily over water? Or will we find solutions to address the impending water crisis? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Is War Becoming Obsolete?

Are current conflicts, such as the internal war in Somalia, simply the "remnants of war"?

A new book by Scientific American writer John Horgan has sparked debate with its central thesis that war is not an inevitable feature of human nature but is a cultural invention that can be overcome.  In an interview Corgan compares war to a virus: “Imagine your neighbor is a violent psychopath who is out for blood and land. You, on the other hand, are person who wants peace. You would have few options but to embrace the ways of war for defense. So essentially your neighbor has infected you with war.”  This scenario has much in common with the security dilemma, in which even defensively motivated arms buildups and alliance formation (assume the violent neighbor only wants to protect himself) will provoke “counterbalancing,” raise tensions, and ultimately leave both sides less secure than they were before this spiral began.  This logic of “one bad apple ruining the whole bunch” has also been used by democratic peace theorists to explain how democracies can behave so peacefully toward each other but, when facing an autocratic (and presumably more aggressive) state, their fear of being exploited or “suckered” leads them to act violently and perhaps even preemptively.

As noted realist scholar Stephen Walt points out, Horgan’s argument follows in the tradition of idealist thinkers such as John Mueller, who famously penned a book in 1989 called Retreat from Doomsday: the Obsolescence of Major War.  Mueller’s argument in that book and its sequel, The Remnants of War, is that “major war” (war among the great powers) has very likely come to an end.  This has occurred because the populations of the great powers have rejected war as a means of settling disputes, just as they earlier rejected institutions such as dueling and slavery when these practices came to be seen as uncivilized and reprehensible.  What we are today witnessing, Mueller argues, is the remnants, or the “dregs” of warfare–war not among professional armies controlled by legitimate governments but among thugs frequently running loose in failed states and seeking self-enrichment.

What do you think?  Is war an inevitable feature of human society or is it just an invention that can be overcome?  If it can be overcome, what can policymakers and ordinary citizens do to make this dream a reality?

The Next Korean War

The South Korean corvette Cheonan, sank in March 2010.

The South Korean corvette Cheonan

The South Korean government issued its final findings from its analysis of the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel last March. The report concludes that the South Korean ship was sunk by a torpedo launched by a North Korean submarine. The conclusion which provoked an immediate and sharp response from the North Korean government, which dismissed the findings as a “conspiratorial farce” and promised “all-out war” and a “nuclear fire shower” if punitive actions are taken against the Pyongyang regime.

The report (and equally importantly North Korea’s reaction to the report) raise some important questions. As Julian Borger argues, South Korea is now caught in a diplomatic (and political) black hole. There is clearly political pressure from within South Korea to respond to the sinking, which claimed the lives of some 46 South Korean sailors. But what sort of response is likely to be productive. The South Korean president is scheduled to address the United Nations Security council this week, and there will likely be discussion of sanctions. But the North Korean regime has been subject to UN sanctions for several years as a result of its ongoing nuclear program. It seems unlikely that further sanctions will fundamentally alter the regime’s policies, particularly if the Chinese government, which has historically been suspicious of sanctions against North Korea, remains hesitant to actively support them. In short, a political/diplomatic response is unlikely to be effective, while a military response is undesirable.

Further, as Ruediger Frank points out in his blog, 38 North, some of the fundamental questions surrounding the attack have not been asked. Most importantly, Frank argues,

Sinking a corvette is very different from shooting a tourist or firing a few pistol shots across the 38th parallel. It is even unlike killing an enemy with an axe in the neutral zone around Panmunjom. It is hard not to regard the deliberate sinking of a warship and the killing of 46 crewmen as an act of war. And it is hard to expect the other side not to share this view.

So who made this fatal and risky decision? Those in the West who insist on calling Kim Jong Il the Dear Leader (although this title has not been in use in North Korea for one and a half decades), who believe that he is the personification of evil and the only person with power in his country, will argue that only he could have given the order. But this assumption collides with a truism that my students learn in their first semester: the top priority of the DPRK leadership is regime survival. An open war against the South would be suicidal.”

Frank concludes that the attack may not have been launched by the North Korean government, but rather reflects the deteriorating chain of command within North Korea itself. Such a situation could be far scarier for the stability of the Korean peninsula.

Virtual Worlds, Real Wars

Screenshot from America's Army

Screenshot from America's Army

There’s a growing body of literature exploring the political and economic implications of virtual worlds. Although the worlds have frequently been dismissed by the mainstream as mere fiction and fantasy, many of the debates at Terra Nova—a a blog dedicated to covering such issues—provide fascinating insight into important political questions. And now the mainstream is beginning to catch on. The latest edition of Foreign Policy carried a fascinating story by PW Singer entitled “Meet the Sims…And Shoot Them,” in which Singer discusses the increasing use of virtual worlds by the U.S. military in terms of recruitment and traiing. But Singer also highlights another aspect of the question termed “militainment.” According to Singer,

The Pentagon’s embrace of video games is part of a much larger phenomenon—“militainment”—that is reshaping how the public understands today’s conflicts. The term was first coined to describe any public entertainment that celebrated the military, but today it could be redefined to mean the fascinating, but also worrisome, blurring of the line between entertainment and war. For example, while America’s Army is technically a publicly funded recruiting and training platform, its main commercial rival is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a game published by Activision Blizzard. The two games compete for market share, but also over who can better define contemporary war zones. In America’s Army, you deploy to the fictitious country of Ghanzia; in Modern Warfare 2, you join a U.S. special operations team that roams from Afghanistan to the Caucasus, winning hearts and minds (or losing them) with a mix of machine pistols and Predator strikes. The players also fight it out in a range of potential future areas of conflict, from Brazil’s rough urban favelas to a simulated Russian invasion of Washington, D.C. (This is actually a major flaw in the game; any invasion force would clearly get stuck in Beltway traffic.)

Interestingly, this phenomenon is not confined to the United States. Hezbollah produced a pair of games titled “Special Force,” in which players attack Israeli forces, and “Unmah Defense” in which players attack the U.S. military and Israeli settlers.

The games provide an important avenue to aid in recruiting. According to an MIT study, 30 percent of Americans 16-24 years of age had a positive impression of the Army because of the America’s Army game, and “the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.” The military is using other virtual worlds to train drone pilots, educate soldiers on what constitutes sexual harassment, develop cross-cultural understanding, and help soldiers returning from conflict zones deal with post-traumatic stress.

But beyond the use of the technology for the training of soldiers, virtual world technologies are also changing the nature of warfare itself. Predator drone missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, are flown by pilots stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, thousands of miles away from the drone itself. This separation—and the way in which conflict is covered in the media—contributes to a sensationalized understanding of contemporary conflicts. Similar problems have been discussed in criminology (the CSI-effect) and in anti-terrorist policy (the Jack Bauer effect). French philosopher Jean Baudrillard makes a similar argument in his essay “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place,” in which he argues that in the western world war has become a media event hiding the suffering inflicted on those on both sides who experience it.

The interesting question, then, is how do our altered perceptions of war affect our foreign policy?