Botswana and the ICC

July 5, 2009

While I’m not a full convert to the idea of international justice (as currently constituted), the ICC is an institution which certainly has some value to it, especially in the nasty conflicts that seem to infect Africa.

So, I was mildly encouraged to see that the recent decision by the African Union not to support the indictment against Sudan’s President Bashir was perhaps not as unanimous as first thought.

I’ve long been a fan of the Botswanan model of post-colonial governance (hint: they’re about the only country that got it right, and it shows), and now they’re proving that, not only can they run their own show effectively, but they’re also capable and willing to enforce international standards of procedural justice.

Nicely done.

Catch Up

June 13, 2009

I’ll be playing a little catch-up over the next few days, so much of what I’ll be posting is probably old news.  I should just delete the drafts and concentrate on recent events, but that’s not a realistic option for an obsessive-compulsive like myself.

Instead, I’ll bore you with analysis of stuff you already know.  Bear with me; we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming by the end of the week.


April 2, 2009

Ok, I’m sitting here in Kabul, after an evening of drumming up new business, and I have to say (as a generally consertative type of guy) that I’m really very impressed with Obama’s press conference from the G-20 summit in London.  I don’t agree with everything he has to say, but I like the way he says it, and I like the way he handles the press.  The ability to manage the international press is a skill that has been sorely lacking lately.  Well done, Mr. President.

Same Shit, Different Decade

March 18, 2009

In clearing out the War College folder (a place for various military-related papers) of my laptop’s hardrive, I came across an interesting document which relates directly to our current difficulties in Afghanistan.  I have decided to quote it at length here (slightly edited) in order to illustrate a interesting dynamic.

From the document:

 a. The social revolution underway in Afghanistan is primarily identified with the Taliban, a communist dominated organization.

b. A popular, political base for the Government of Afghanistan does not now exist.

c. The regular armed forces, the paramilitary forces, the reconstruction cadre and the administrative cadre are politically inarticulate, and lack sufficient, positive motivation.

d. Resource utilization by the Afghanis is haphazard at best, deliberately sabotaged at worst. It is characterized by waste, redundancy, misapplication, and the absence of valid priorities.

e. A chain of command exists principally on paper. This is applicable to both the military and civilian hierarchies.

f. Assistance from the United States, both military and economic, is used to perpetuate a regime that despite its lip service to the contrary, has not demonstrated a sincere interest in bettering the lot of the rural population.

g. The centralization of administrative and financial authority at ministerial level has hampered the development of local responsive government, and has often provided an excuse for inaction by those dealing directly with the population.

h. The existing system of administration promotes inefficiency, prevents management by exception, creates confusion, and encourages corruption.

i. Gadgetry, air power, and artillery continue to be substituted for the discriminate ground actions required to prosecute the military side of this war without unduly alienating the civilian population.

j. Emphasis is placed upon the use of physical obstacles to provide population security rather than the fostering of a spirit of resistance.

k. The bulk of the Afghan grounds forces are not effectively utilized; their most habitual employment is for defense or in reserve, and neither of these two missions is performed effectively.

l. The advisory concept has failed, not through lack of effort and dedication, but because it has been an instrument of a US policy of nonintervention in the internal affairs of the government of Afghanistan, even though much intervention has been needed and desired by knowledgeable and concerned Afghans.

On the face of it, this is a comprehensive list of the difficulties we currently face in the counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan.  It covers all of the standard concerns of population protection, governance, foreign military training, reconstruction funding, etc.  It appears to be a useful guide to the things we need to fix in our Afghan strategy.

See, here’s the thing.  The quote above doesn’t come from a recent think-tank analysis or Pentagon report on Afghanistan.  It actually was written in 1965 by Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, senior advisor to USOM and CORDS in South Vietnam.  All I did was replace the references to South Vietnam with Afghanistan, the National Liberation Front with the Taliban, and communism with Islamism.

The paper, entitled Harnessing the Revolution, was an attempt by Vann to reconceptualize the advisor mission in Vietnam and create an effective and responsive organization that could reverse the gradual slipping of the American war effort in the rural provinces.  Vann believed that in order to be successful, the commanders at MAC-V need to rethink their approach and adopt a population-centric military strategy with more robust political, economic and social goals.  He was a tireless prophet for this more nuanced approach, an early COINdinista, as they’re called today.  Needless to say, he didn’t succeed, although he never stopped trying, staying with the advisor mission long after most Americans had decided that South Vietnam was lost.  John Paul Vann was killed in a helicopter crash in 1972.

Four decades later, the U.S. military in Afghanistan is beginning to recognize the value of Vann’s advice and the folly of conducting a counter-insurgency with a conventional force.  There are a host of energetic young officers, converts to the cause of COIN warfare, who are struggling to put ideas like Vann’s into practice.  One wonders what could have been different if the predecessors of those officers had understood the critiques leveled at them by John Paul Vann.  Perhaps the U.S. Army wouldn’t have waited through seven costly years of war to write an official counterinsurgency field manual.

Change of Venue

March 14, 2009

I certainly didn’t intend for over a month to pass between my introductory post and my second attempt. Life, such as it is, intruded rather rudely into my blissful realm of unemployment and forced me to reorder my priorities and reconfigure my schedule.  In short, I got a job.

Not just any job, in fact, but a potentially interesting (one hopes) and extremely challenging (no doubt) job.  After spending a few weeks dithering in London and attempting to sort out some visa issues, I have begun my new employment with a private security company in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Just goes to prove how one can never be sure where one’s life will lead.

I haven’t settled in enough yet to determine exactly what kind of experience this will be, but it is certainly a long way from the comfortable halls of academia which I had begun to grow fond of.*  Kabul is not London, not a long stretch.  Hell, it’s not even Swindon or Manchester.  This city is considerably more screwed up than any of those places.

*Perhaps “fond” is not the right word.  I had become comfortable, which is not the same thing.  Nor is it a good thing, in my opinion.  One of the reasons I accepted this position in Afghanistan is to break out of the not-entirely unpleasant rut that I had fallen into.

So, I intend to continue this blog and maintain the focus on IR in general and security studies in particular.  I may be somewhat divorced from the latest scholarship, but the practical experience in a conflict zone should hopefully make up for that.  And I promise to do better than one post a month.  Really, I promise.

Mission Statement

February 4, 2009

Well, it seemed about time that I joined the 20th century (I know, I’m nine years behind schedule; we’ll leave the 21st century for a later time), and create a blog to house my thoughts, concerns, ideas and research in the area of my primary passion, International Relations.

IR is one of those catch-all terms that people like to throw around, either in a misguided attempt to convey a serious which they don’t possess, or because what they’re talking about doesn’t fit into any one convenient box.  In the future, I fully intend and expect to be guilty of both here.  This is because, although I consider myself a serious student of IR (more on that later) and an experienced researcher and writer on these topics, I’m somewhat unable to be as serious as some of the people in this field would like.  A little humor (and I emphasize little, since I’m setting my sights low for this blog) can go a long way to making unpleasant or distasteful subjects slightly more palatable.  In the rarefied atmosphere of IR commentary, there is often a surfeit of seriousness and a decided lack of style or humor.  I hope to in some small way rectify that imbalance.

On the second point, IR is a broad field and should remain so.  Political science (in the traditional sense) has its uses, as does a more focused discussion on military science, macroeconomics and trade or international law.  However, all those more focused approaches invariably end up expanding beyond their initial competency and thereby encroaching into IR’s proper domain, that of interstate relations in the modern world.  This comes at the inevitable cost of sometimes sounding like they’re talking out of their ass (because they often are).  Geopolitics (or geostrategy if you’re French) is a generalist’s field, by necessity.  It requires a holistic approach, incorporating elements of traditional politics, economics, military science, law and many other disciplines.  Thus, I will attempt to focus here on the larger picture and leave the specific commentary in the sub-disciplines to those who are better suited for it.

That said, one might notice from the sub-title to this blog that security issues will play an important role here.  Like IR, the catch-all word “security” (as opposed to defense, military, or any of several others) is purposefully broad, because modern security issues encompass more than just traditional military activities and actors.  Astute readers will also have noticed the use of the phrase “post-Westhphalian” in the subtitle, implying a certain view on the nature of the current geopolitical system.  I assure you this is fully intentional (more on that later as well).  No one, astute or otherwise, will have missed the appearance of Machiavelli’s name in the main title, which implies additional other elements of the aforementioned view.  And what exactly does he keep in his closet?  Once again, I can only say more on this later.

For those of you who are now dismayed about talk of the big picture and the gratuitous use of Machiavelli’s name, and are now inwardly groaning about the possibility more IR theory, I can assure you that theory (IR or any other) will only rear its ugly head here when absolutely necessary.  With apologies to those exceptional theorists under whom I was privileged to study, the world of IR theory is (to me) overly dry and ultimately pointless.  Entertaining perhaps for a rhetorical discussion after class (preferably with plentiful cocktails), but of little use to the practical, immediate world of IR policy and geopolitics.  So, I promise to do my best to slap down any unscheduled appearances of theory here, and focus particularly on concrete questions and events.