Friday, January 30, 2009

NATO 60th Anniversary logo unveiled

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama to North Atlantic Council

Letter from President Obama

To the Secretary General of NATO, and the Members of the North Atlantic Council
As you gather in Brussels on January 20, 2009, allow me to send my warm wishes to you and to all the men and women of NATO.
Our nations share more than a commitment to our common security – we share a set of common democratic values. That is why the bond that links us together cannot be broken, and why NATO is a unique alliance in the history of the world. Now it falls to us to work together to face down the perils of this moment in history, while seizing its promise.
The lesson of the 21st century is that the security of our nations and our people is shared. We face an extraordinary set of challenges, and must meet them together. That is why we must renew our Alliance, respect every nation’s contribution, and strengthen our capacity to meet the challenges of our young century.
NATO has much to be proud of, but also much work to do -- from helping the people of Afghanistan build a better future, to helping the people of Europe's south and east as they become fully a part of democratic Europe. As we move forward, the United States will remain committed to doing its part to strengthen our common security, and honors the service of the brave men and women of our nations who are serving in harm’s way.
I appreciate the many good wishes that I have received upon my Inauguration from the leaders and the people of NATO nations. As we approach NATO's 60th Anniversary Summit, I look forward to working with all of your nations to renew our democratic community, and to strengthen our vital security Alliance.
With best wishes,
Barack ObamaPresident-ElectUnited States of America

Monday, January 19, 2009

Photo of the week # 2/2009

A member of the White House staff walks off with a portrait of outgoing President George W. Bush in Washington January 13, 2009.

REUTERS/Jason Reed

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Iran, Iran, Iran

Three of the most pressing national security problems facing the Obama administration - nuclear proliferation, the war in Iraq and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan - have one thing in common: Iran.

All three challenges are, in principle, amenable to diplomatic solution, but only if we give it a try. Success on any of the three will not be possible without serious engagement with Iran.

We propose coordinating and integrating policies on these three security challenges with a regional diplomatic strategy that includes Iran.

The United States should seek to open talks with Iran without preconditions. On the nuclear dispute, we propose that the United States and its European allies present a plan for Iran's current uranium enrichment program to be reorganized as a multinationally owned, operated, and managed program with enhanced international monitoring and verification.

Sanctions and threats have failed to force Iran to abandon its enrichment program and by themselves are unlikely to do so even with Iran's recent economic problems.
Iran has expanded its centrifuges from none to roughly 5,000 over the past three years of UN Security Council sanctions. To believe that a proud country like Iran is simply going to dismantle all its centrifuges is wishful - and ultimately dangerous - thinking.

Agreement on the multinational enrichment option would lead to greater assurance about Iran's nuclear activities, and it would open the door to serious discussions with Iran on other issues of great importance to the U.S.

On Iraq and Afghanistan, direct U.S. engagement with Iran and other key regional and international players, including the United Nations, will be necessary if the United States hopes to draw down its forces and bring stability to these war-torn nations.

This process must be truly multinational and cannot be seen as another, purely American initiative.

Diplomatic discussions must focus on support for Iraq's territorial integrity; national reconciliation; ending military support for non-state groups in Iraq and Afghanistan; the resettlement of millions of refugees; and the establishment of confidence-building measures that include Iran's neighbors.

Achieving serious commitments from the relevant governments will not be easy and will take time, but such an approach will be essential to provide stability as U.S. troops are drawn down. No such regional arrangement is possible, however, without the inclusion of Iran.

Preparing the ground for negotiations with Iran on these critical issues will take time and patience. This process could include a series of steps such as changing the tone of public discourse, working to build confidence that a new, positive approach has been adopted and establishing direct, official contacts with Tehran to explore reciprocal actions and responses while working to avoid misunderstandings.

More formal direct negotiations with Iran should then begin late this summer following the Iranian elections with whomever is elected president of Iran.

As General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, recently observed, Iran has many common interests with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both the United States and Iran support the Iraqi and Afghan central governments, seek to establish stability, oppose Sunni terrorists such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban, want to reduce drug trafficking, and, perhaps most importantly, need to prevent these countries from descending into chaos and civil war.

Of course, there are issues on which Washington and Tehran disagree, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and human rights. But treating Iran as a donkey that must be dealt with carrots and sticks is unlikely to work.

It is time to begin dealing with Iran as a serious, proud and influential nation with a deep culture and history, one whose common interests with the U.S. and other countries in the region should be recognized and acted on before events make success impossible.

William Luers is president of the UN Association-USA. Thomas R. Pickering is a former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. Jim Walsh is a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Israel faces questions of war crimes in Gaza

A Palestinian carries his belongings near his destroyed house after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip January 9, 2009.
REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Steven Erlanger
Published: January 17, 2009
International Herald Tribune

Your unit, on the edges of Jabaliya, has taken mortar fire from the crowded refugee camp nearby. You plot the launch and go to return fire, and perhaps you notice - or perhaps you don't, even though it's on your map - that there is a United Nations school just there, full of internally displaced Gazans. You know that international law allows you to protect your soldiers and return fire, but also demands that you ensure that there is no excessive harm to civilians. Do you remember all that in the panic?

You pick GPS-guided mortars, which are supposed to be accurate and of a specific explosive force, and fire back. In the end, you kill some of the Hamas fighters, but also, the United Nations says, more than 40 civilians, some of them children. Have you committed a war crime?

Whatever the military and political results of Israel's three-week-old war against Hamas in Gaza, Israel is again facing serious accusations and anguished questioning over the legality of its military conduct. As in Israel's 2006 war against Hezbollah, the perception abroad of how Israel fights, and hence of Israelis, may prove to be more lasting than any strategic gains or losses.

The photographs of devastation in crowded Gaza and the large asymmetry in deaths, especially of civilians, have created an uproar in the Arab world and the West reminiscent of 2006.

A plethora of Western foreign ministers, United Nations officials and human rights groups, both Israeli and foreign, have expressed shock and disgust. Human Rights Watch and Israel's B'Tselem have called for investigations into possible war crimes. Such groups also say Hamas is clearly violating the rules of war.
More than 1,100 Palestinians have died in Gaza, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health says, which estimates that 40 percent were women and children under 18. Israel contends that only a quarter of the dead were civilians. Israel, which has suffered 13 dead, 3 of them civilians, has been accused of a disproportionate use of force.

Death tolls in warfare may carry a moral weight, but not a legal one.
Full article is here

Hamas after the Gaza war

A Palestinian boy gestures as he holds a toy gun during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 9, 2009.
REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

By Khaled Hroub

The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people", said Moshe Yaalon, the then Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief-of-staff in 2002. The war launched by Israel in the Gaza strip at the end of 2008 is designed in part to force the Hamas movement too to internalise this belief. It will not and cannot work; indeed, it is my argument that the war will have the opposite effect.

After three weeks of intense and round-the-clock attacks by air, land and sea, Israel is far from achieving either its immediate aim of halting rocket-attacks from Gaza or the larger "psychological" aim enunciated by Moshe Yaalon. It has become apparent that the war itself will instead convince many more Palestinians that their ability again to withstand an assault by the fourth most powerful army in the world is a source of their power rather than their weakness.
In this, the 1.5 million Palestinians under siege in Gaza are writing a new chapter in their own uncompleted modern history. They are also demonstrating a more general lesson of warfare: that wars and armed conflicts have unexpected consequences, including often the creation of a new reality quite different from what it was launched to achieve.

The political reality
In this case, the outcome of the Gaza war of 2008-09 is likely to leave Hamas stronger and with an enhanced legitimacy among the Palestinians and within the region. Israel has pursued its official goal of "achieving a new security situation" in southern Israel with ferocity: its use of massive military force has in (at the time of writing) twenty days of war killed over 1,033 Palestinians, around 600 of them women and children. Yet it has failed either to silence Hamas's primitive rockets or to destroy its ability to function as a coherent entity.

True, in operational terms Hamas's capability has been reduced (though this may prove only temporary). Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas has around 15,000 strong fighters, and it has killed in the current operation no more than 400. The movement's leadership remains intact, and its popular support and regional standing have risen. It is clear that in the aftermath of the war Hamas will have to be included in international dialogue about the Palestinian future.
This in itself would be sufficient evidence of Israel's failure. But even as things stand, the reduction in its capacity to subdue its enemies is exposed. The army that in the six-day war in 1967 defeated the armies of four Arab states and seized parts of Egypt, Syria and Jordan that far exceeded Israel's then area has followed the embarrassment of the war against Hizbollah in 2006 with another inconclusive campaign against a non-state militia.

This has an important political as well as a military dimension. The heart of Israel's strategy since Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections of January 2006 has been the imposition of an economic blockade against Gaza that would create such misery as to press people there to turn against the Hamas administration.
The flaw in this project is Israel's self-defeating understanding of the basis of Hamas's evolution since its formation in 1987-88 (see "Hamas's path to reinvention", 9 October 2006). The growth of the movement in these two decades was never exclusively based on its armed activities alone. The bedrock of its strength was a broad-based social network that permeated Palestinian society (in much of the West Bank as well as in the Gaza strip). The 2006 elections were in part the reward for Hamas's long-term effort to create this network, which is a continuing political reality that cannot be eliminated by military means.

Khaled Hroub is director of the Cambridge Arab Media Project in association with the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000), and Hamas: a Beginner's Guide

The full article is here

HRW on the U.S. Military Airstrikes in Azizabad, Afghanistan

Houses damaged and destroyed by airstrikes in Azizabad, Afghanistan
© 2008 AIHRC

New York, January 15, 2009

The US military's investigation into deadly and controversial airstrikes in Azizabad in Afghanistan in August 2008 was deeply flawed, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

On October 1, 2008, the Department of Defense published a summary of a report by Brig. Gen. Michael Callan of its investigations into US airstrikes on the village of Azizabad in Herat province on August 21-22, 2008. Since that time, Human Rights Watch has conducted additional research into the events surrounding the Azizabad airstrikes, reviewed the facts presented in the summary, and analyzed the Callan investigation's methodology.

"The weaknesses in the Callan investigation call into question the Defense Department's commitment to avoid civilian casualties," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Unless the new Obama administration urgently addresses the US military's airstrike practices in Afghanistan, more unnecessary civilian deaths and injuries will result."

Separate investigations conducted by the United Nations, the government of Afghanistan, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission concluded 78 to 92 civilians had been killed at Azizabad, the majority of them women and children. For weeks after the incident, the US strongly rejected all three investigations. An initial US military inquiry by the Combined Joint Task Force 101 concluded that no more than five to seven civilians and 30 to 35 Taliban fighters had been killed. In various media interviews, US officials suggested that the villagers were spreading Taliban propaganda.

After the release of video showing significant numbers of civilian dead, and strong criticism from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the UN, the US announced on September 7 that it would conduct a new investigation led by General Callan.

The Callan report summary accepted a larger figure for the number of dead - 33 civilians - but rejected the much higher civilian death tolls reported by the UN, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and the Afghan government, and criticized their methodology. It failed to acknowledge any flaws in the initial US assessments, and it dismissed villager testimony as financially or politically motivated.

The summary concluded that the US attack on insurgent forces in Azizabad was "necessary" and "proportional," failing to acknowledge any possible mistakes in US intelligence. It exonerated the US forces who carried out the attack of any wrongdoing without providing a basis for its conclusions, and suggested without evidence that Taliban forces deliberately used civilians as "shields."

Flaws in the Callan investigation that may have led to a lower US estimate of civilians killed include: the dismissal of villager testimony about numbers killed, the rejection of consistent claims that some graves contained more than one body, and the assumption that almost all the men who died were insurgents.

"There was great hope in Afghanistan that the Callan report would provide a credible and detailed analysis of the Azizabad airstrikes, place blame where it fell, lead to appropriate disciplinary action, and result in operational changes that would avoid such tragedies in the future," said Adams. "Unfortunately, this has not happened."

Human Rights Watch recommended that the US government:

  1. Ensure that air attacks comply with the legal obligation to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.
  2. Stop using airstrikes in densely populated areas unless the intelligence is highly reliable and the target has been visually identified. It is critical that US forces improve their assessments on the ground before they employ close air support, taking into account the risk of misinformation or disinformation from sources.
  3. Refrain from using 105mm howitzers or similar area-effect weapons against targets in densely populated areas.
  4. Thoroughly investigate the collateral damage- and battle damage-assessment processes to determine how they can be improved to reduce civilian casualties, and make appropriate changes.
  5. Provide accurate and timely information on civilian casualties in military operations.
  6. Take responsibility for civilian casualties when that is warranted and take appropriate disciplinary or criminal action against those responsible.

Human Rights Watch urged the Defense Department to publicly release the Callan report.

"We deeply regret the Pentagon's decision not to declassify and publish the full report of the Azizabad investigation," said Adams. "In the interests of bringing to public attention the investigation's methodology, analysis, and findings, we urge Defense Secretary Gates to reconsider that decision."

Human Rights Watch said that the US and its allies have made some positive operational changes and commitments to try to reduce civilian casualties, particularly in Tactical Directives issued on September 2 and December 8 and in various statements to the media by political and military leaders.

"The US still needs to change its policies and practices on airstrikes to end the string of attacks that have caused so much loss of civilian life," said Adams. "Otherwise the planned arrival of 20-30,000 more troops in Afghanistan may lead to greater, not fewer, civilian deaths."

In September 2008 Human Rights Watch issued a report on the problem of civilian casualties from airstrikes, "‘Troops in Contact': Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan" (, which made detailed recommendations of ways to avoid civilian casualties.

The Group of Two that could change the world

By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Published: January 13 2009 19:44

When President Jimmy Carter sent me to China in 1978 to initiate the secret negotiations that resulted in the normalisation of US-China relations, only 1,200 foreigners lived in Beijing; just the other day 1,100 American officials moved into the new US embassy – and it is estimated that 150,000 foreigners now live in the city. Our world is different, better and safer because of that normalisation.

It precipitated almost from the start security co-operation that has been of genuine benefit both to the US and China. The effect was to change the cold war’s global chessboard – to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union. Indirectly, the normalisation facilitated Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s decision to undertake a comprehensive economic reform. China’s growth would have been much harder without the expansion in US-Chinese trade and financial relations that followed normalisation.

What is the current geostrategic status of the US-China relationship?

An article in Liaowang magazine (July 14 2008) describes the relationship as one of “complex interdependence”, in which both sides evaluate each other in pragmatic and moderate terms and in which “the two sides can compete and consult within the existing international rules”. To be sure, a globally ascending China is a revisionist power in that it desires important changes in the international system but it seeks them in a patient, prudent and peaceful fashion. Americans who deal with foreign affairs especially appreciate the fact that Chinese strategic thinking has moved away from notions of a global class conflict and violent revolution, emphasising instead China’s “peaceful rising” in global influence while seeking a “harmonious world”.

Such common perspectives also make it easier for both sides to cope with residual or potential disagreements and to co-operate on such challenges as those posed by North Korea’s nuclear programme. If we at all times keep in mind the centrality of our interdependence, we will be able to cope with other contentious issues.

What should now be our shared grand goal? Our relationship cannot be static; it will either expand or narrow. The world will benefit, and so will our countries, if it expands. As a practical matter, we need to widen and deepen our geostrategic co-operation, beyond the immediate need for close collaboration in coping with the economic crisis.

China is needed as a direct participant in the dialogue with Iran, for China will also be affected if the effort to negotiate ends in failure. US-China consultations regarding India and Pakistan can perhaps lead to more effective even if informal mediation, for a conflict between the two would be a regional calamity. China should become actively involved in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which increasingly poses the risk of a radicalised and unstable Middle East.

We need to develop a shared view on how to cope with the global risks posed by climate change. We should explore the possibility of creating a larger standby UN peacekeeping force for deployment in failed states. We should discuss how an international initiative towards a global adoption of the zero-nuclear weapons option might be helpful in stemming wider nuclear weapons proliferation. We certainly need to collaborate closely in expanding the current Group of Eight leading industrial nations to a G14 or G16, in order to widen the global circle of decision-makers and to develop a more inclusive response to the economic crisis.

But to promote all that we need an informal G2. The relationship between the US and China has to be a comprehensive partnership, paralleling our relations with Europe and Japan. Our top leaders should therefore meet informally on a regular schedule for personal in-depth discussions not just about our bilateral relations but about the world in general.

All this points in a politically as well as philosophically ambitious direction. The Chinese emphasis on “harmony” can serve as a useful point of departure for the US-Chinese summits. In an era in which the risks of a massively destructive “clash of civilisations” are rising, the deliberate promotion of a genuine conciliation of civilisations is urgently needed. It is a task that President-elect Barack Obama – who is a conciliator at heart – should find congenial, and which President Hu Jintao – who devised the concept of “a harmonious world” – should welcome. It is a mission worthy of the two countries with the most extraordinary potential for shaping our collective future.

Soft power with guns

By Peter Buxbaum in Washington, DC for ISN Security Watch

It hardly could have been a coincidence.
On Wednesday last week, the Pentagon's Military Health Service chief spoke before the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on the role of the US military in global health. Meanwhile, the head surgeon of US Africa Command flew in from Stuttgart to chair a two-day symposium beginning on Thursday on AFRICOM's health-related activities.

With a new congress having recently been convened and a president about to take the oath of office, it is not surprising that advocates of military medical diplomacy are front and center extolling the virtues of their activities. US military health officials want to protect their budgets in a Washington atmosphere that may not be the best for them.

For one thing, the economic crisis has the US government pouring trillions of dollars into efforts to stimulate financial activity and create jobs, causing the budget deficit to balloon to frightful levels.

More to the point, many in Washington, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is being held over from the Bush administration by Barack Obama, have questioned the growing militarization of US foreign policy. By that, Gates means not only the rush to use US military force before diplomatic channels have been exhausted, but also the emphasis on using military capabilities for projects such as infrastructure building and humanitarian relief.

Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, in his talk before the bipartisan CSIS, acknowledged that Gates had proposed to cut his budget for global health and transfer that funding to programs run by the State Department, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

"Of course, I'm obliged to say, 'Yes, sir,'" said Casscells, who will also be serving under Obama. But in the next breath he went on to explain why Gates should not take the axe to his budget.
Casscells' basic thesis is that the US military is moving in the direction of exercising more soft power. "Just as good health is an integral part of a person's well-being, a good health sector is vital to a nation's," he said. "The Defense Department's increasing role in global health is essential in improving security in troubled nations and minimizing conflict in others."
The full article is here

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lithuania Supports Sikorski for NATO Chief

Gazeta Wyborcza, January 8, 2009
Written by Jacek Pawlicki
Translated by Marcin Wawrzyńczak

'If Mr Sikorski puts forward his candidature for the position of the Nato secretary general, he can count on Lithuania's one-hundred-percent support,' conservative deputy Emanuelis Zingeris told Gazeta yesterday.

Audronius Ažubalis, head of the Lithuanian parliament's foreign affairs committee, spoke in a similar tone. 'It would be good if Radosław Sikorski became the Nato secretary general. From today's point of view, the election of a personage from Poland, Lithuania's strategic partner, would be a positive development. Poles have a superb historical memory and an excellent understanding of their role and significance in the region,' said Mr Ažubalis, quoted by BNS. In his view, the election of the Polish foreign minister would guarantee that the alliance paid attention to its 'Eastern European dimension' and that its eastward enlargement continued.

Mr Ažubalis and Mr Zingeris are the first politicians from a Nato member state to publicly comment on Mr Sikorski's potential bid for the Nato position. Until now only the press, e.g. Der Spiegel and The Economist, wrote about Mr Sikorski's chances. In late December last year prime minister Donald Tusk admitted Mr Sikorski was one of the candidates for the post of the Nato secretary general. He said it was not just hype.The Lithuanian declaration of support for Mr Sikorski came as a pleasant surprise for Warsaw. Though Polish-Lithuanian relations are good, Mr Sikorski fell foul of the Lithuanians at least twice last year. In late autumn he supported the EU foreign ministers' decision to reopen the talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, which Lithuania as the only member state opposed until the very end. In May 2008, in a parliamentary address, he compared the Polish minority's situation in Belarus and Lithuania, which angered some Lithuanian politicians.A thorn in Polish-Lithuanian relations is the issue of the spelling of Polish names in Lithuania. Despite Vilnius's repeated assurances, the problem has not been solved to this day. That is why, according to Gazeta's sources at the Foreign Ministry, the support offered for Mr Sikorski's candidature by an influential member of the Lithuanian parliament, which holds the key to solving the spelling issue, bodes well for the future, even though it does not improve Mr Sikorski's chances of winning the post in any significant way. The decision on who replaces the alliance's acting head, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, will be made at the Nato's summit in April.

The Caucasus: a region in pieces

by Thomas de Waal

Caucasus editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London from 2002-08.
The Caucasus region is a small and troubled place. It should be a common endeavour where its small and diverse nationalities - in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as Russia’s north Caucasus - work together to build an integrated region. Instead, no sense of common purpose is discernible: the sad reality is, that with its tangle of closed borders and ceasefire lines, the Caucasus more resembles a geopolitical suicide-pact.

Nowhere in the world can there be so many roadblocks. The two long borders - Armenia-Azerbaijan and Russia-Georgia are almost permanently closed (the latter even more tightly controlled since the war of August 2008 between the two countries). Only two neighbours – Azerbaijan and Georgia – can be said to have a genuinely close relationship, and even that is based primarily on energy politics rather than common values; it does not translate into many tangible benefits for ordinary people.


Yet, given the chance, the everyday folk of the Caucasus eagerly take the opportunity to do business with one another. A tale of two markets confirms this. The first was the one at Ergneti, right on the administrative border between Georgia and the breakaway territory of South Ossetia, where the busiest wholesale market in the Caucasus used to flourish. The Ossetians brought untaxed goods from Russia (everything from cigarettes to cars) to sell there, in return for (mainly) agricultural produce brought by the Georgians. The Georgian government of Mikheil Saakashvili that came to power in January 2004 argued that since Ergneti was unregulated it was knocking a big hole in the state budget and had to be shut down; the market was duly closed in June 2004.

The closure of Ergneti may have been justified on strict legal grounds, but the decision lacked imagination; for, in the words of Georgia’s former conflict- resolution minister Giorgy Khaindrava, “If Ergneti didn’t exist it would have to be invented.” Ergneti was possibly the widest “confidence-building measure” in the entire Caucasus region, with people of all nationalities doing business. It is arguable that the day it closed was the day the countdown to war in South Ossetia began.
The second market was located at the Georgian village of Sadakhlo on the Georgia-Armenia border. It was another astonishing spectacle: a mass Armenian-Azerbaijani market on Georgian territory, which paid no heed to the bitter relations at state level between the two countries and which moreover was conducted with virtually no Georgians in sight. There, Azerbaijanis bought Armenian produce and Armenians purchased Azerbaijani goods that would then flood the shops of Yerevan. Sadakhlo, though not forced to shut down entirely as Ergneti was, has been curtailed by governmental pressures. Again, a magnificent example of inter-ethnic cooperation has been suppressed.


What politics drives apart, common economic and security interests should drive together. The south Caucasus is a delicate mechanism in which the malfunctioning of one part affects what is going in the others.

That became obvious during the August 2008 war in Georgia. Azerbaijan’s prime revenue-earners, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa pipelines, were shut down. When the Grakali railway bridge in central Georgia was blown up on 16 August, the effect was also to block the only railway-line linking Armenia to the Black Sea coast. The result was to cut off landlocked Armenia’s entire imports for a week, costing the country at least $500 million in revenue.

The political responsibility for this unfortunate state of affairs is widely shared. Armenia and Azerbaijan have adopted intransigent positions which mean they have failed to resolve the prime source of tension between them as well as the biggest obstacle to peace and prosperity in the Caucasus: the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Georgia, in its push towards Euro-Atlantic integration since 2004, has generally ignored its neighbours and Russia. In the words of Georgian analyst Archil Gegeshidze, one reason for Georgia’s problems is that the Saakashvili government unwisely “put all its eggs in the basket of mobilising western support” and did not pay sufficient attention to its neighbours.

Europeans and Americans have often payed lip-service to the idea of regional integration in the Caucasus, though in practice they have generally pursued narrower goals. Europe’s grand communication and transport project designed to link the Caucasus to Europe - Traseca, billed as a new “silk road” - has received less than €200 million ($270 million) of investment since it was inaugurated in 1993; its effects so far are negligible.

Instead, projects such as NATO expansion, energy security and the claims of Armenian diasporas have all tended to divide Caucasian policy into different segments. In Washington, it seems at times that different agencies are running different policies with a different primary focus - the Congress on Armenia, the Pentagon on Azerbaijan, and the state department on Georgia.

Full article is here

A crossroad for Russia and America

By Ellen Barry
Published: January 11, 2009

In August of last year, a new Russia presented itself to the world. From the battlefield of Georgia, the message said: We are no longer seeking the good opinion of the West. The new taste for confrontation was seen by many as a byproduct of oil and gas wealth, which had given Russia's leaders the confidence to risk international isolation. In the title of a book he published in April, the scholar Marshall Goldman offered a one-word explanation: "Petrostate."

That thesis may have a short shelf life. Russian leaders, no longer hoping to make the ruble an international reserve currency, now face a confluence of disasters: The price of a barrel of oil has slid below $40, shares of Gazprom fell 76 percent in a year and more than a quarter of Russia's cash reserves have been spent shoring up the ruble.

But does that mean we can expect a thaw between Russia and America?

The question arises at a moment of high tension. The deadlock between Russia and Ukraine on gas prices has drawn in all of Europe; violence in Georgia could flare up again. Barack Obama's Russia policymakers are taking office under the pressure of unfolding events.

Henry Kissinger, who was in Moscow last month, is offering the hopeful view that the global financial crash could lead to "an age of compatible interests." But others see the crisis pushing Russia in the opposite direction. So there are two paths:
In the global financial collapse, as Alexander Rahr of Germany's Council on Foreign Relations put it: "We have all become weaker. We have all become poorer." So, pressed by domestic concerns, both sides pare back their foreign ambitions. Washington slows its timetable on NATO expansion and missile defense; Russia defers the dream of recapturing the Soviet "privileged sphere of influence." Leaders in Moscow present this to the public as a victory.

The logic here is straightforward: A cash-strapped Russia would need Western money and technology to develop its energy fields. State monopolies would seek foreign partners, and bare-knuckled power grabs like Russia's past moves against BP and Shell Oil would look counterproductive. The "battle of ideas" within the Kremlin, as Igor Yurgens, an adviser to President Dmitri Medvedev, describes it, would turn away from "isolation, seclusion, imperial instincts" and toward long-term partnership with the West.

"If we take care of the crisis by isolating ourselves, if we don't learn the lessons from what is already being done, then the fate of Russia can be the repetition of the fate of the U.S.S.R.," Yurgens said. "I don't think we are stupid enough."

"Less resources means more selfish behavior," as Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, has said. In this case, Russia finds itself facing internal dissent and the threat of regional separatism, and lacking large piles of oil money to disburse in hopes of keeping control. Forced to fight for their own survival, political leaders tailor their policies to domestic public opinion. They focus on an external enemy — the United States, which leaders have already blamed for Russia's financial crisis, and with whom Russia is already deeply irritated over the prospect of American military influence reaching Ukraine.

By this logic, it would be absurd to cede ground to the West now, after the long-awaited taste of satisfaction that Russians got in Georgia. Many Russians see the August war as a restoration of Russia's rightful place in world events — a product not of oil wealth, but of the Russian society's recovery from the Soviet collapse.

"Russia has returned, period," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Kremlin-aligned Polity Foundation. "That will not change. It will not get back under the table."

WHICH scenario is more likely?
"It's just the way things are," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, whose grandfather, Vyacheslav Molotov, was Stalin's foreign minister. Searching his memory for periods of warmth between the two countries, Nikonov came up with two: March and April of 1917, and August through December of 1991.
The full article is here

USA, Israel and Iran's Nuclear Programme

U.S. rejected aid for Israeli raid on Iranian nuclear site
By David E. Sanger
Published: January 11, 2009

President George W. Bush deflected a secret request by Israel last year for specialized bunker-busting bombs it wanted for an attack on Iran's main nuclear complex and told the Israelis that he had authorized new covert action intended to sabotage Iran's suspected effort to develop nuclear weapons, according to senior American and foreign officials.

White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Bush left office. But the Bush administration was particularly alarmed by an Israeli request to fly over Iraq to reach Iran's major nuclear complex at Natanz, where the country's only known uranium enrichment plant is located.

The White House denied that request outright, American officials said, and the Israelis backed off their plans, at least temporarily. But the tense exchanges also prompted the White House to step up intelligence-sharing with Israel and brief Israeli officials on new American efforts to subtly sabotage Iran's nuclear infrastructure, a major covert program that Bush is about to hand off to President-elect Barack Obama.

This account of the expanded American covert program and the Bush administration's efforts to dissuade Israel from an aerial attack on Iran emerged in interviews over the past 15 months with current and former American officials, outside experts, international nuclear inspectors and European and Israeli officials. None would speak on the record because of the great secrecy surrounding the intelligence developed on Iran.

Several details of the covert effort have been omitted from this account, at the request of senior United States intelligence and administration officials, to avoid harming continuing operations.
The full report is here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Photo of the week # 1/2009

An employee of a Slovak gas company clears the glass of a gauge, which shows the zero gas pressure in the pipelines, at the border delivery station in the eastern Slovak town of Velke Kapusan January 7, 2009.
REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Oh, those " national caveats"...


At the first glance, it is hard to understand why there are two overlapping missions in Afghanistan NATO-led mission International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OED), but closer look reveals us the complexities of such dual military command.
In a Afghan Study Group report, published nearly one year ago, on January 30, 2008, its authours (among them also Gen. James L. Jones (Retd.), future national Security Advisor to the president-elect Barack Obama) quite clearly describes the existing situation:
This is not to say that the current command and control system cannot be adjusted or improved. By definition, international military operations are complex, beset by national caveats and other restrictions, and do not compare with the efficiencies resident in a national chain of command. To be successful, senior commanders must be patient, tolerant, and understanding of the complexities (both military and political) that bring about success in international operations. Essentially, there are two strategic commands operating in Afghanistan. Both are commanded by Americans. One (SHAPE) is in Mons, Belgium, and the other is on MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. Both commands are comprised of multinational forces, and both must work in harmony in order to succeed in Afghanistan. American commanders and key staff officers are interspersed at virtually all critical positions of the NATO command structure in order to de-conflict operations. In fact, for the past year, the U.S. has also commanded the tactical headquarters of NATO’s force in Afghanistan (ISAF) with a third four-star general.
The range of military missions in Afghanistan encompasses everything from humanitarian to highly kinetic conventional and special operations. It is a fact that some nations have strong national restrictions with regard to the type of operations their forces are authorized to undertake, but this has been true since 2004. As long as nations refuse to modify their positions with regard to caveats and restrictions, the command structure will be, by necessity, complex. It would be ideal if nations could agree, as they did in Kosovo in 2004, to remove virtually all caveats and restrictions. This far, in Afghanistan, they have not done so.
NATO and OEF forces have some degree of overlapping missions. NATO’s ISAF’s key military tasks include assisting the Afghan government in extending its authority across the country, conducting stability and security operations in co-ordination with the Afghan national security forces; mentoring and supporting the Afghan National Army (ANA); and supporting Afghan government programs to disarm illegally armed groups. The OEF mission in Afghanistan is to conduct counter-insurgency (COIN) operations against the Taliban and other insurgents, and to stop the infiltration of Taliban forces from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
The existing command structure is the result of some Allies not wanting their forces to participate in OEF’s COIN missions, which are politically sensitive on their home public opinion fronts. Such an “imperfect and complicated” command structure requires ISAF and OEF commanders and their subordinates and staffs to coordinate and ensure transparency in their operational plans.

"National Caveats" Hobbles NATO Anti-narcotics Eefforts

A drive by the NATO alliance to disrupt Afghanistan's drug trade has been hobbled by new objections from member nations that say their laws do not permit soldiers to carry out such operations, according to senior commanders here. The objections are being raised despite an agreement two months ago that the alliance's campaign in Afghanistan would be broadened to include attacks on narcotics facilities, traffickers, middlemen and drug lords whose profits help to finance insurgent groups.
During a recent visit here, General John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander, expressed surprise upon learning of what he described as a gap between the decision by alliance defense ministers to authorize aggressive counternarcotics missions and the lack of follow-through because of objections from several of the countries that make up the NATO force in Afghanistan.
As the United States and its allies strive to devise a better strategy to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, American policy makers and military officers say it is critical to choke off the drug money that sustains the insurgency, much as they are working with Pakistan to halt the use of its tribal areas as a haven by the Taliban and other antigovernment forces just across the border from Afghanistan.
Seven years after the rout of Al Qaeda and the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, disagreements over how aggressively NATO forces should go after the insurgency's chief source of revenue are only the latest hurdle in a campaign that has been troubled by disputes between the United States and some of its allies about what role NATO soldiers should play in a mission cast as "security assistance."
The counternarcotics debate is a reminder of how unwieldy the alliance's military operations can be. United Nations figures show that Afghan insurgents reap at least $100 million a year from the drug trade, although some estimates put the figure at five times as much.
In an interview, Craddock said profit from the narcotics trade "buys the bomb makers and the bombs, the bullets and the trigger-pullers that are killing our soldiers and marines and airmen, and we have to stop them."
NATO officials in Brussels declined to list the nations that have opposed widening the alliance mandate to include attacks on drug networks, and no nation has volunteered that it has legal objections.
But a number of NATO members have in broad terms described their reluctance publicly, including Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. Their leaders have cited domestic policies that make counternarcotics a law enforcement matter — not a job for their militaries — and expressed concern that domestic lawsuits could be filed if their soldiers carried out attacks to kill noncombatants, even if the victims were involved in the drug industry in Afghanistan.
As has been the case in a whole range of combat operations mounted by NATO forces in Afghanistan, each country is allowed to state its reservations and opt out of missions that are viewed as too risky, either politically or militarily. Those "caveats" have been a source of enormous frustration to American commanders.
That system of caveats was never intended to halt NATO operations; missions objectionable to one nation can be taken over by another nation's forces. But commanders say that legal objections to counternarcotics operations have prevented the international mix of troops across poppy-rich regions of southern Afghanistan from carrying out the new responsibilities.
Full article is here

Afghan Bonn Architect: They Are not Working Together Very Well

Lakhdar Brahimi:

We thought that NATO coming out of its natural territory, which is Europe, for the first time, would do its very, very best not to fail. But it hasn't been the case. Very, very frankly, to put it very mildly, NATO has been a disappointment in Afghanistan. They are not working together very well. Each country is really running its [own] policy. They have what they call caveats. Every country comes in with a lot of conditions. They say: "These are the things that we accept to do. And these are the things that we do not accept to do." The poor secretary-general of NATO has people who will always tell him: "No, no, no. This is not for me."
The international community as a whole -- perhaps not the United Nations, but lot of others -- has lost sight of the interest of the people of Afghanistan. And I think we need to go back to that. What are we doing in Afghanistan? This nonsense about fighting terrorism in Afghanistan doesn't make any sense. If you help the people of Afghanistan, rebuild their state, international terrorism will disappear from Afghanistan overnight. If you don't do that, you will kill a lot of people -- both the people you call terrorists and I'm afraid a lot of innocent people -- and you will just as a matter of fact help this international terrorism to recruit more people.
Interview with RFE/RL
"A New Path for Afghanistan" by Lakhdar Brahimi is here

Afghans and U.S. plan to recruit local militias

By Dexter Filkins
Published: December 24, 2008

Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban. But along with hope, the move is raising fears here that the new armed groups could push the country into a deeper bloodletting.
The militias will be deployed to help American and Afghan security forces, which are stretched far and wide across this mountainous country. The first of the local defense forces are scheduled to begin operating early next year in Wardak Province, an area just outside the capital where the Taliban have overrun most government authority.
If the experiment proves successful, similar militias will be set up rapidly across the country, senior American and Afghan officials said. The formation of Afghan militias comes on the heels of a similar undertaking in Iraq, where 100,000 Sunni gunmen, many of them former insurgents, have been placed on the government payroll. The Awakening Councils, as they are known, are credited by American officials as one of the main catalysts behind the steep reduction in violence there.
But the plan is causing deep unease among many Afghans, who fear that Pashtun-dominated militias could get out of control, terrorize local populations and turn against the government. The Afghan government, aided by the Americans, has carried out several ambitious campaigns since 2001 to disarm militants and gather up their guns. A proposal to field local militias was defeated in the Afghan Senate in the fall.
The full article is here

Advance of the Taliban

The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) reports that the Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. Taliban forces have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan’s western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul. Within a year, the Taliban's permanent presence in the country has increased by a startling 18%. Three out of the four main highways into Kabul are now compromised by Taliban activity. The capital city has plummeted to minimum levels of control, with the Taliban and other criminal elements infiltrating the city at will. Through its research platform in Afghanistan, ICOS determined the Taliban’s presence across the country using a combination of publicly recorded attacks and local perceptions of Taliban presence. One or more insurgent attacks per week in a province constitutes a “permanent Taliban presence” according to ICOS.
Taliban Presence November 2008

It is evident from the map that the attacks follow the main supply route through the south of the country and also the major supply routes allowing goods in and out of the country. Clearly, the Taliban are active and disrupting traffic flow along these roads.
NOTE: Map statistics are based upon publicly recorded attacks and local perceptions of Taliban presence

Dark Pink: Permanent Taliban Presence (72% in 2008)= Average of one or more insurgent attacks per week, according to public record of attacks. It is highly likely that many attacks are not publicly known.
Light Pink: Substantial Taliban Presence (21% in 2008)= Based on number of attacks and local perceptions (Frequency of Taliban sightings)
Grey Areas: Light Taliban Presence (7% in 2008)= Based on number of attacks and local perceptions (Frequency of Taliban sightings)

The colour coded dots on the map represent civilian, military or insurgent fatalities since January 2008

Red = civilian fatalities
Green = military fatalities
Yellow = insurgent fatalities

The full report is here

U.S. plans to expand its Afghan lifelines

A convoy of Afghan trucks carrying wheat and US military supplies travels through Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday. (Bob Strong /The Associated Press)

By Thom Shanker
Published: December 30, 2008
The United States and NATO are planning to open and expand supply lines through Central Asia to deliver fuel, food and other goods to a military mission in Afghanistan that is expected to grow by tens of thousands of troops in the months ahead, American and alliance diplomats and military officials say.
The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass, which was closed Tuesday by Pakistani security forces when they opened an offensive against militants in the region.
The militants have shown they can threaten shipments through the pass into Afghanistan, burning U.S. cargo trucks and Humvees over recent weeks. More than 80 percent of the supplies for U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan now flow through Pakistan. But the new arrangements could leave Washington more reliant on cooperation with such authoritarian countries as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which have poor human rights records.
The officials said delicate negotiations were under way not only with the Central Asian states bordering Afghanistan, but with Russia as well, to work out the details of new routes. The talks show the continued importance of U.S. and NATO cooperation with the Kremlin, despite tension over Russia's August war with Georgia and other issues.
U.S. officials said they were trying to allay Central Asian concerns by promising that the supplies would be hauled only by commercial companies and would not include weapons or munitions. Officials also said that no additional U.S. bases would be required.

Full article is here

Afghanistan as a failed state?

A man pulling a cart filled with fire wood past a mansion owned by high ranking government officials in the Shirpoor neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Danfung Dennis for The New York Times)

In a recent article in the IHT Dexter Filkins describes the grim picture of the governance system in Afghanistan or, more precise to say, the complete ansence of it. The article was published with the heading "Afghan corruptuion: Everything for Sale":

Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.
A raft of investigations has concluded that people at the highest levels of the Karzai administration, including the president's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, are cooperating in the country's opium trade, now the world's largest. In the streets and government offices, hardly a public transaction seems to unfold here that does not carry with it the requirement of a bribe, a gift, or, in case you are a beggar, "harchee" - whatever you have in your pocket.
The corruption, publicly acknowledged by Karzai, is contributing to the collapse of public confidence in his government and to the resurgence of the Taliban, whose fighters have moved to the outskirts of Kabul, the capital.
"All the politicians in this country have acquired everything - money, lots of money," Karzai said in a speech at a rural development conference here in November. "God knows, it is beyond the limit. The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen."
The decay of the Afghan government presents Barack Obama with perhaps his most under-appreciated challenge as he tries to reverse the course of the war here. The president-elect may be required to save the Afghan government, not only from the Taliban insurgency - committing thousands of additional American soldiers to do so - but also from itself.
On the streets here, tales of corruption are as easy to find as kebab stands. Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to government services, even a person's freedom. The examples above - $25,000 to settle a lawsuit, $6,000 to bribe the police, $100,000 to secure a job as a provincial police chief - were offered by people who experienced them directly or witnessed the transaction.

According to the Transparency International data colllcted in the Corruption Perception Index in 2008 Afghanistan is ranked 176 among 180 nations.
Meanwhile Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who quitted his job in 2004, has described the current Afghan state as a narco-mafia state and has called for a new Marshall plan for Afghanistan published in his recent article in "The Independent":

The spread of corruption and bad governance imposes injustices, and often daily hardships, on ordinary Afghans, whose hopes for better lives are frustrated by the lack of services. These citizens want their current and future governments to be accountable. Containing the threat of narcotics to the region and the world requires a bold economic approach. The break point between illegal and legal economies is a legal income of $4 per capita per day. In order to reach this threshold in Afghanistan, three major sectors of the economy must be revitalised: mining, agriculture, and services. Afghanistan is rich in minerals including copper, iron, marble, chromite, manganese and emeralds. With good governance in place, these assets can generate funds. Connecting farmers to markets through careful investment, organisation and infrastructure would provide livelihoods in rural areas. In urban areas, a fresh approach to municipal governance could mobilise the service industry, particularly construction, to create jobs. If Europe wanted to do more, a package of trade and enterprise partnerships could be as significant as any commitment of troops. And in the medium and long term, the most effective investment of all will be education and vocational training programs for the rising generations. Used for this purpose, one month of current military expenditures could change the life opportunities of five generations of Afghans.

The instruments currently used by the international community in Afghanistan, however, are part of the problem. The system can be made effective and efficient by eliminating the tens of thousands of scattered efforts, which create waste and parallel structures, and instead unifying foreign aid behind the single instrument of the Afghan national budget. The government and its international partners should delineate a set of objectives to deliver a dividend to the population and establish clear rules for accountability and transparency, including the creation of joint decision-making committees that bring international figures together with Afghan civil society and business oversight. This kind of partnership will require a new design for the use of aid, by a group similar to that which designed the Marshall Plan.

Big implications for latest battle in Gaza

By Steven Lee Myers
Published: January 4, 2009
International Herald Tribune

Israel's campaign in Gaza against Hamas may succeed, experts here and in Israel say, but it could also backfire. Either way, the political consequences could reverberate throughout the Middle East, all the way to Iran, and help determine the ability of President-elect Barack Obama to pursue his stated goals of calming the Middle East through diplomacy.
While Israeli leadership was not stating wider goals, there was clearly hope in the country, as tanks and troops massed late last week, that the assault would do more than just stop the rocket fire with which Hamas had broken a cease-fire last month. The larger hope was that subduing Hamas would delegitimize the group's leadership in the eyes of the Palestinian people and eliminate its power to prevent a two-state solution.
Already last week, it was exposing political, ethnic and sectarian divisions in the region that Israel, like the United States, had long sought to exploit.
In a highly optimistic scenario for Israel and the United States, a clear victory for Israel would make it easier for Egypt, Jordan and countries farther afield to declare common cause against Islamic militancy and its main sponsor in the region, Iran.
Then, as Martin Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel, argued, an international peacekeeping force made up of Turkish and Arab troops could clear the way for a restoration of political control in Gaza by President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the Fatah movement and is titular president of all Palestinians, but in reality is the weak leader of only the West Bank.
Iran is the one country - aside from Israel - with the most at stake in the outcome. It sponsors Hamas and Hezbollah not only to torment Israel but also to spread its influence in the Arab world. A convincing defeat of Hamas would undercut that strategy, and presumably Iran's ability to resist Western pressure in any broad bargaining - for example, over its support for terrorist groups and even its nuclear program. "It's an ambitious scenario," said Indyk, with a sobering caveat, "that would require things to get significantly worse before they could get better."
But Israel's attacks also could fail outright, and history suggests that as the more likely scenario, Middle East experts across the political spectrum said.
The strikes - and the Arab anger over scenes of death and destruction - have highlighted divisions in the Middle East that can prevent Arab nations from working with Israel.
Full article is here

Pakistan and Its Nuclear Arsenal - Obama's worst nightmare?

Obama's worst Pakistan nightmare
By David E. Sanger
Published: January 9, 2009

International Herald Tribune

To get to the headquarters of the Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with keeping the country's growing arsenal of nuclear weapons away from insurgents trying to overrun the country, you must drive down a rutted, debris-strewn road at the edge of the Islamabad airport, dodging stray dogs and piles of uncollected garbage. Just past a small traffic circle, a tan stone gateway is manned by a lone, bored-looking guard loosely holding a rusting rifle. The gateway marks the entry to Chaklala Garrison, an old British cantonment from the days when officers of the Raj escaped the heat of Delhi for the cooler hills on the approaches to Afghanistan. Pass under the archway, and the poverty and clamor of modern Pakistan disappear.
Chaklala is a comfortable enclave for the country's military and intelligence services. Inside the gates, officers in the army and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, known as the ISI, live in trim houses with well-tended lawns. Business is conducted in long, low office buildings, with a bevy of well-pressed adjutants buzzing around. Deep inside the garrison lies the small compound for Strategic Plans, where Khalid Kidwai keeps the country's nuclear keys. Now 58, Kidwai is a compact man who hides his arch sense of humor beneath a veil of caution, as if he were previewing each sentence to decide if it revealed too much. In the chaos of Pakistan, where the military, the intelligence services and an unstable collection of civilian leaders uneasily share power, he oversees a security structure intended to protect Pakistan's nuclear arsenal from outsiders — Islamic militants, Qaeda scientists, Indian saboteurs and those American commando teams that Pakistanis imagine, with good reason, are waiting just over the horizon in Afghanistan, ready to seize their nuclear treasure if a national meltdown seems imminent.

In the second nuclear age, what happens or fails to happen in Kidwai's modest compound may prove far more likely to save or lose an American city than the billions of dollars the United States spends each year maintaining a nuclear arsenal that will almost certainly never be used, or the thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan to close down sanctuaries for terrorists.

Just last month in Washington, members of the federally appointed bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism made it clear that for sheer scariness, nothing could compete with what they had heard in a series of high-level intelligence briefings about the dangers of Pakistan's nuclear technology going awry. "When you map WMD and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan," Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert on the commission, told me. "The nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than it was. But the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan itself, because it's not hard to envision a situation in which the state's authority falls apart and you're not sure who's in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials."

For Kidwai, there is something both tiresome and deeply suspicious about the constant stream of warnings out of Washington that Pakistan is the epicenter of a post-cold-war Armageddon. "This is all overblown rhetoric," Kidwai told me on a rainy Saturday morning not long ago when I went to visit him in his office, which is comfortably outfitted with oversize white leather chairs and models of the Pakistani missiles that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the farthest corners of India. Even if the country's leadership were to be incapacitated, he insisted, Pakistan's protections are so strong that the arsenal could never slip from the hands of the country's National Command Authority, a mix of hardened generals (including Kidwai) and newly elected politicians. Kidwai has spent the past five years making the same case to American officials: just because a savvy metallurgist named Abdul Qadeer Khan, a national hero for his role in turning Pakistan into a nuclear-weapons power, managed to smuggle nuclear secrets and materials to the likes of Iran, North Korea and Libya for profit in the 1980s and 1990s, it doesn't mean that such a horrendous breach of security could happen again.

"Please grant to Pakistan that if we can make nuclear weapons and the delivery systems," Kidwai said, gesturing to the models and a photo of Pakistan's first nuclear test, a decade ago, "we can also make them safe. Our security systems are foolproof."

"Foolproof" IS MOST likely not the word Barack Obama would use to describe the status of Pakistan's nuclear safety following the briefings he has been receiving since Nov. 6, which is when J. Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, showed up in Chicago to give the president-­elect his first full presidential daily brief. For obvious reasons, neither Obama nor McConnell will talk about the contents of those highly classified briefings. But interviews over the past year with senior intelligence officials and with nuclear experts in Washington and South Asia and at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna provide strong indications of what Obama has probably heard.

The full article is here

Monday, January 5, 2009

NATO counter-piracy operation concluded: now EU turn.

After a successfull NATO "Operation Allied Provider", the European Union has undertaken its own counter-piracy mission, Operation ATALANTA.
The NATO operation was conducted in response to the request by the United Nations Secretary General and in support of UN Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838. NATO deployed Operation Allied Provider from 24 October to 12 December, as a temporary force to provide support to the World Food Programme and bolster anti-piracy efforts in the area.
During this period NATO ships ensured the safe delivery of 30 thousand tonnes of food to Somalia, disrupted several pirate attacks against merchant vessels, and deterred countless others.
On 14th December 2008 Admiral Gumiero, Commander of the NATO Operation, met with his EU counterpart, Commodore Papaioannou, to ensure a smooth transition to EU Operation ATALANTA. The meeting was held at sea, on board the NATO flagship Durand de la Penne (ITS), where Admiral Gumiero shared his knowledge and perception of the maritime challenges in the region with Commodore Papaioannou.
ATALANTA operation, which is the first EU maritime operation, is conducted in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy.
The first pirate's engagement took place on the 27th of January, when the German frigate Karlsruhe assisted a 65,000 tonne Egyptian bulk carrier in fighting off a pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden yesterday morning. This engagement, was initiated after the carrier came under attack at 11:00 local time. The Karlsruhe's helicopter was launched and fired warning shots to deter the attack which was abandoned. The pirates were then stopped and their arms and equipment were throw into the sea.

Photo of the week 2008/2009

A Palestinian viewed rubble from an Israeli strike on Saturday
in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza