Tuesday, March 30, 2010

30 days through Afghanistan

Tech SGT. Ken Raimondi and Tech SGT. Nathan Gallahan, military journalists of ISAF's Joint Command in Kabul have been travelling around Afghanistan in one month for a web-based project titled "30 Days Through Afghanistan".
“There are so many people in this country who have so much to say, and there’s so much to talk about, that I could have spent 10 years blogging every day and could have found something new to talk about” Gallahan said.
Ken Raimondi added that while “30 Days Through Afghanistan” may have broken new ground in contemporary military journalism, it really represents a return to the personal, frontline interview style of famed World War II reporter Ernie Pyle.
From my point of view, this project represent a unique opportunity to learn first hand (or almost...) about the so many positive stories Afghan people are experimenting. Watching some of the vlogs, it is clear how much efforts the international community is putting in reconstruction efforts for Afghanistan. “There was no approval chain. What we saw, we talked about,” Raimondi said. That is - I think - the major achievement of "30 days through Afghanistan"!
Both reporters said they were gratified to read comments submitted by some of the several thousand followers of the blog, which Gallahan wrote, and the video log postings, which Raimondi produced. Although they would have liked the Web site to have attracted a larger audience beyond the military community, they said, they hope their approach has opened doors for others. I hope YATA Community will contribute in spreading the word.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Russia and U.S. Report Breakthrough on Arms

The United States and Russia have broken a logjam in arms control negotiations and expect to sign a treaty next month to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century, officials in both nations said Wednesday.

After months of deadlock and delay, the two sides have agreed to lower the limit on deployed strategic warheads by more than one-quarter and launchers by half, the officials said. The treaty will impose a new inspection regime to replace one that lapsed in December, but will not restrict American plans for missile defense based in Europe.

President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia plan to talk Friday to complete the agreement, but officials said they were optimistic that the deal was nearly done. The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama’s speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The new treaty represents perhaps the most concrete foreign policy achievement for Mr. Obama since he took office 14 months ago and the most significant result of his effort to “reset” the troubled relationship with Russia. The administration wants to use it to build momentum for an international nuclear summit meeting in Washington just days after the signing ceremony and a more ambitious round of arms cuts later in his term.

“This gives a boost” to the administration’s efforts to build better ties to Russia, said Steven Pifer, a top State Department official under President George W. Bush who specialized in Russia and arms control issues. “There’s still a ways to go and there are still difficult issues. But the last six months, it seems to be going pretty well and this adds to the positive in the relationship.”

More broadly, the White House hopes the treaty will build on the president’s victory in the fight to overhaul health care, demonstrating progress on both the international and domestic fronts after months of frustration over unmet goals.

The new 10-year pact would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or Start, which expired in December, and further extend cuts negotiated in 2002 by Mr. Bush in the Treaty of Moscow. Under the new pact, according to people briefed on it in Washington and Moscow, within seven years each side would have to cut its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 from the 2,200 now allowed. Each side would cut the total number of launchers to 800 from 1,600 now permitted. The number of nuclear-armed missiles and heavy bombers would be capped at 700 each.

Neither the White House nor the Kremlin formally announced the agreement on Wednesday, pending the final telephone call between the presidents. A Kremlin official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was an agreement on the text of the pact, although not all the wording had been given final approval. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said, “We’re very close.”

Arms control proponents hailed the progress. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, called it “the first truly post-cold-war nuclear arms reduction treaty.” Richard Burt, a former chief Start negotiator who now heads a disarmament advocacy group called Global Zero, said that the two presidents “took a major step toward achieving their goal of global zero.”

The breakthrough ended nearly a year of tumultuous negotiations that dragged on far longer than anticipated. The two sides quarreled over verifying compliance, sharing telemetry and limiting missile defense programs. Mr. Obama restructured Mr. Bush’s plans for an antimissile shield in Europe, but Moscow objected to the new version as well and wanted restrictions. Mr. Obama refused. The two presidents cut through disagreements during a telephone call on March 13.

The treaty will go for ratification to the legislatures in both countries, and the politics of Senate ratification could be tricky, coming at a polarized moment with a midterm election on the horizon. Republican senators have already expressed concern that Mr. Obama might make unacceptable concessions. Ratification in the Senate requires 67 votes, meaning Mr. Obama would need support from Republicans.

Senators Mitch McConnel of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican leaders, wrote Mr. Obama last week warning him that ratification “is highly unlikely” if the treaty contained any binding linkage between offensive weapons and missile defense, reminding him of his position “that missile defense is simply not on the table.”

Administration officials describing the draft treaty said its preamble recognized the relationship between offensive weapons and missile defense, but that the language was not binding. The treaty establishes a new regime of inspections, but the American monitoring team that was based at the Votkinsk missile production factory until Start expired would not be allowed to return on a permanent basis.

Russian analysts said Moscow was happy to have reduced what it saw as the overly intrusive inspection regime mandated by Start but disappointed not to have secured restrictions on missile defense. The military was pressuring the Kremlin not to agree to arms reductions without limits on the American missile shield, even though both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have described it as aimed at Iran, not Russia. In the end, the Kremlin overruled the military because it wanted a foreign policy achievement. “The military does not have the influence that it did during Soviet times,” said Anton V. Khlopkov, director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow. “Back then, the military people, if they didn’t run, they were among those who led the arms control negotiations from the Soviet side. Now, they have less of a role.”

Vladimir Z. Dvorkin, a retired major general and arms control adviser, said Moscow would retain the ability to scrap the new treaty if American missile defenses became a threat. “If, for example, the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile defense, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement because the spirit of the preamble has been violated,” he said.

Mr. Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to brief them on the negotiations. Mr. Kerry later said he would hold hearings between Easter and Memorial Day on the history of arms control and promised action by year’s end. “I assured the president that we strongly support his efforts and that if the final negotiations and all that follows go smoothly, we will work to ensure that the Senate can act on the treaty this year,” Mr. Kerry said.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

NATO History: 1990 No pledges not to expand NATO eastward

In early nineties, when Est-West confrontation was ending, USSR leader Gorbaciev was promised by European and North American leaders that NATO will not be expanded eastward, if he would accept reunification of Germany.
Mark Kramer, Cold War Studies Project at Harvard University and a senior fellow of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, in his recent analysis on the Washington Quarterly, challenges this thesis and argues that no ‘pledge’ or ‘commitment’ or ‘categorical assurances’ about NATO’s role vis-a`-vis the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries were made during the negotiations between Europeans, Americans and Russians leading toward Germany reunification, as previously assumed.

Kramer assumption is that in 1990 it was too early to talk about these issues, since NATO expansion was not in anyone's agenda, excluding East Germany. Following the declassification of written memories and other crucial documents of the actual conversations, the surviving assumption of "no-eastward-enlargement-pledge"can be challenged. The protagonists of that time [Kohl (then German Chancellor), Gorbaciev, Shevardnadze (then USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Baker (then US Secretary of State)] have not clearly discussed that option.

New START Treaty agreement

On March 26th, US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev declared that an agreement on strategic nuclear weapons and their means of delivery has been reached by the two countries.

The agreement will be signed in Prague, Czech Republic on April 8th. According to President Obama "the United States and Russia have agreed to the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades" while President Medvedev said that "the negotiators’ constructive mindset made it possible to achieve a tremendous result in a short time".

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Intenational Conference Afghanistan and beyond : NATO heading towards a new strategic concept

On March 10th and 11th, the conference “Afghanistan and beyond : NATO heading towards a new Strategic Concept “ was held in the Cripta Aula Magna of Università Cattolica in Milan. The meeting was supported by the Centre of High Studies for Defence, by NATO Public Diplomacy Division, by the Army Comand of Lombardy and by NATO Rapid Deployable Corps (Italy). It was organized by the Department of Political Sciences of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and directed by Professor Massimo de Leonardis.
The Conference saw the participation of more than 200 students, young professionals and experts.
On the first day, major exponents of the diplomatic, military and academic world exposed their views on most influencial issues of the current security scenario. Professor Riccardo Redaelli, teaching History of Political Civilties and Cultures and Mr. Daniele Riggio, Information Officer of the NATO public Diplomacy Division, have reported on the current Afghanistan conflict, mostly in quality of direct witnesses of the recently occured in Kabul and nearby.
The research done by Professor de Leonardis on behalf of the Ce.Mi.Ss entitled “NATO: globalization and loss of centrality” has been the main topic of the subsequent round table. The persons who intervened were: Generale Cabigiosu, ex commander of the K-For, Professor AntonGiulio de’ Robertis, teaching History of Treaties at Bari University, Professor Carlo Jean, professor of Strategic Studies at the Link Campus University in Rome and author of the research himself.
The conference continued with an in-depth analysis reguarding the transformation of the force and the military operation of the NATO. Albeit the absence of Professor Ilari, a History of Military Institutions and of Security Systems lecturer at Cattolica, Professor Pastori has read Prof. Ilari’s speech. The reports have occupied the first part of the afternoon: among the speakers we can cite Colonel Massimo Panizzi, Public Affairs Advisor and speaker of the NATO Military Commitee and of the International Military Staff, General Pierpaolo Ramoino, Vice President of the Strategic and International Studies University Centre. A very appreciated speech was the one of the Ambassador Stefanini, permanent reppresentant of Italy at the North-Atlantic Council, who has stressed the importance of the Italian contribution in the process of elaborationg the new Strategic Concept.
The second day started with round table during which Prof. De Leonardis, Ambassador Guido Lenzi, Member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Atlantic Committee, Mr Jean-Sylvestre Mongrenier, Senior Yellow of the Thomas Moore Institutute in Paris and Prof. Vittorio Emanuele Parsi,Professor of International Relations at the Catholic University exposed their views on the new NATO Strategic Concept.
The conference ended with the exposition of Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, NATO Deputy Secretary General onthe new NATO, the partnerships with other countries (in particolar Russia)and the future of the Alliance."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

NATO Rattles Its Weapons Near Russia’s Borders Again

Ivan Tulyakov reported to Pravda in Russia about the increasing presence of NATO near the Russian boarders. A point of view...

NATO opened the Baltic Region Training Event – a first in a series of large scale military maneuvers to be held in the Baltic States in 2010. The main goal of the drills is to have Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania integrated into the air policing system of the alliance. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, France and the United States take part in the event. Poland’s F16, France’s Mirage 2000 and USA’s fueling aircraft, Lithuania’s L39 Albatros will perform joint flights.

The drills are supervised from NATO’s Air Force Headquarters in Rammstein, Germany. An official statement from the headquarters said that the air drills in the Baltic region was a demonstration of NATO’s unity.

NATO started holding drills in the Baltic region in 2008. This year, NATO will organize several drills in the region to train the delivery and deployment of NATO troops.

The maneuvers of 2010 will be the largest since the time when the three Baltic States joined NATO.

Who needs military activities near Russia’s borders? NATO officials claim that the alliance does not threaten Russia, but it seems that Brussels sticks to the same doctrines, for which the military bloc was created.

Some experts believe that NATO organized the drills in response to Russia’s demonstration of force in the war with Georgia. Russia has also conducted joint drills with Belarus, which could also make NATO remind Russia of its presence in the region.

It is obvious, though, that NATO holds the event in the region to strengthen the sanitary cordon with Russia and show Russia who is the master in the Baltic States.

The current and future maneuvers held near the borders of Russia and Belarus can be explained with the development of a certain defense plan for the Baltic States, which is something that the countries wanted to obtain from the alliance. An official spokesman for Estonia’s defense ministry said that the ministry was working on such a plan.

It goes without saying that defense is extremely important. However, it is important only if there is danger of military threat. Russia does not post any threat to the Baltic States, although the leaders of these countries refer to the Georgian experience. Such a reference is politically incorrect and cynical. Georgia was internationally recognized as the aggressor in the war of 2008.

Ivan Tulyakov

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Invitation DAYS 2010 - July 5-11

Dear colleagues in the YATA network

The Danish ATA is proud to announce the 25th annual Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar (DAYS) which will be held on July 5-11 at Aalborg Airbase in the Northern part of Denmark.

DAYS is an event gathering students, experts and practitioners from more than twenty different countries to a week with security politics, conflict management, networking and socialization.
Through lectures, workshops, panel debates and social activities the seminar will give the participants a unique opportunity to enlarge their intellectual and cultural horizon.

All applicants are welcome to contact our project coordinator Emma Hjernø at emma@atlant.dk
for further information. The invitation and application form can be found at our home page www.atlant.dk/days.html
Your application should be send no later than April 15th.

We hope to hear from you soon.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

SIMOTAN V - Announcement and Invitation - May 5-8 2010

Dear Esteemed Friends and Colleagues,

The Portuguese Atlantic Committee and the School of Social and Political Sciences of the Technical University of Lisbon have the immense pleasure of inviting your association to participate in SIMOTAN V, a North Atlantic Council simulation, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, from May 5 to May 8.

We kindly ask all candidates to contact us at secretariadoajpa@gmail.com so we can provide you with the Invitation and Appllication Form, to be sent no later than March 31st.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Man Versus Afghanistan

With a little peace and development, the hard core of the hydra-headed insurgency, including elements of the HIG and the Taliban, could no longer hide in plain sight, and “we nailed them,” Kolenda said. You couldn’t afford to lose one firefight. Yet when you were not eyes-on-target, you had to show restraint. Kolenda told me about one junior noncommissioned officer who made sure his soldiers did not step on a farmer’s field once they had spread out on open ground. This sounds easy, but such mundane yet critical actions go completely against the grain of high-testosterone young soldiers bred on hunting and chewing tobacco and wanting to be an Army ranger all their lives in order to fight.

By the time Kolenda’s battalion was redeployed out of Kunar and Nuristan, violence had dropped by 90 percent. His battalion didn’t need a Dairy Queen or other amenities to keep their spirits up. As Sergeant Major Mike Hall told me, “If you’re down-range and focused, time goes fast. That is what good morale is all about.”

The measures that Kolenda told me about were not the gold standard. They were merely the minimum required to overcome the forces of geography and history; and they had to be replicated throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan, where each battalion encountered a different mix of clan and sub-clan rivalries.

The coordination of more than a score of such battalions, not to mention 45 Army Special Forces A-teams, Marine special-ops units, and so on, all involved in some aspect of counterinsurgency, is less the job of McChrystal than that of Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez, like McChrystal and Kolenda a West Point graduate, who heads the ISAF Joint Command. If the military coalition in Afghanistan were a newspaper, think of McChrystal as the editor in chief and Rodriguez as the managing editor. McChrystal, atop ISAF, is, as he said, focused “up and out,” dealing with big-think strategic planning, daily interactions with NATO and other members of the 44-country coalition in Afghanistan, the United Nations, the Afghan National Army and National Police, President Karzai, and the ministers of interior and defense, as well as with training indigenous forces and restructuring detainee procedures—that is, exploiting captured Taliban sources, while not mistreating them, and gradually getting America out of the detainee business altogether. Above all, McChrystal has the task of military coordination with Pakistan in the hunt for high-value targets in the borderlands.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is focused “down and in,” on the day-to-day operations of ISAF, on the deputies of the relevant ministries, the district governors, provincial councils, border police, individual Afghan army units, and so on. Rodriguez, a six-foot-four-inch, gangly, gentle giant with a shock of short salt-and-pepper hair, is the real implementer of President Obama and McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.

The shame is that Rodriguez’s three-star command didn’t even come into existence until late 2009: before that, previous commanders such as Generals David McKiernan and Dan McNeill had to combine the two jobs. As a result, neither job got done as well as it should have. Given the demands of both positions, McChrystal isn’t the only one who sleeps just four hours a night; the same could be said for Rodriguez, and for Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. Flying to Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif with Eikenberry and Rodriguez, respectively, I noticed how they sleep on planes because they essentially have two back-to-back workdays in each 24-hour period: the line-up of briefings and meetings all day long and the tsunami of emails that arrive after dark once Washington, nine and a half hours behind, gets to work.

Rodriguez flew up to Mazar-e-Sharif to listen to Afghan security forces report on what they had been doing for the past few months. In his quiet, unassuming manner, Rodriguez relentlessly questioned the Afghan officers about the Taliban’s shadow governments and justice system, the integration of local militias into the security forces, improvements on the ring road connecting Mazar-e-Sharif with Herat in the west and Kabul in the east, and the threat level in Kunduz and Baghlan. The Afghans responded with briefs about the extortion of farmers by the HIG in Baghlan and by the Taliban in Kunduz, and about how the enemy was able to attack highways and supply lines coming from Central Asia and erect an alternative tax system, even though it had no permanent bases. Because of problems with translation from Dari to English, the meeting went on for hours.

“This process is slow and painful,” Rodriguez admitted to me afterward. “If we did everything ourselves, it would be quicker, but we wouldn’t leave a legacy. Because the Afghans are deeply involved in all these operations, they own it. For a Soviet-inspired army to talk about rural redevelopment as they did in that meeting is an incredible thing.” Rodriguez told me he constantly flies around to the regional commands for such briefs, bringing with him a train of high-ranking American and Afghan officers and Kabul ministry officials. On this trip, Rodriguez immersed himself with two key Afghans: army Chief of Staff Bismullah Khan and Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Karimi, head of army operations. (Karimi is from Khost, by the Pakistan border, the lair of the insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and so for very personal reasons, he wants Haqqani “eliminated.”)

The idea is to put the American and Afghan military leaders, as well as low-ranking commanders, down-range together socially, and create a flat, fast organization. As with a similar effort in Iraq, top-down guidance from high-ranking officers gets bottom-up refinement from captains and sergeants. To wit, Rodriguez’s operations center is a vast hangar-like building with no walls or partitions, very much evoking a newsroom environment. “It is an atmosphere in which you error towards sharing what you know,” said Navy Commander Jeff Eggers, a McChrystal adviser.

“I learned at JSOC,” McChrystal explained, “that any complex task is best approached by flattening hierarchies. It gets everybody feeling like they’re in the inner circle, so that they develop a sense of ownership. The more people who believe that they are part of the team and are in the know, the more you don’t have to do it yourself.” As Brigadier General Scott Miller, who runs the Afghanistan-Pakistan Coordination Cell at the Pentagon, told me about McChrystal and Rodriguez’s philosophy: “Decentralize until you’re uncomfortable, then scrutinize, fix, and push down and out even further, to the level of the sergeants.” Precisely because of the commander’s ability to reach down to the junior noncommissioned officers, a flat military organization puts—in the words of one admiral I interviewed—“performance pressure on everybody.”

This show of organizational dynamism points to a ground truth: despite the awful toll of casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the near-breaking of the Army through the strain on soldiers and their families because of long and dangerous deployments, American ground troops are emerging nearly a decade after 9/11 as a force that is even more organizationally and intellectually formidable than it was after the Berlin Wall collapsed, when the United States was the lone superpower. Army and Marine Corps company commanders, for example, can lead in a conventional fight and, as Kolenda’s experience showed, also bring order to chaotic tribal and ethnic messes, all while they communicate effectively up the bureaucratic chain (a skill they began to hone before 9/11, in the Balkans). And these officers have mastered what is, in fact, the colonial technique of partnering with indigenous forces molded in their own image. Rodriguez’s command is a culmination of this whole experience.

But the very dominance of the U.S. military can lead to a dangerous delusion. For the time being, the American media and policy elite are focused on whether U.S. forces can achieve substantial results in 15 months, even though it is a truism of counterinsurgency that there are few shortcuts to victory and you shouldn’t rush to failure. Nevertheless, U.S. forces quite possibly will have quelled some significant part of the anarchy in southern Afghanistan by then: this is the sort of challenge our troops have become expert in. Yet that might only lead to mistaking artificial progress for lasting governance. The very prospect of some success by July 2011 increases the likelihood that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan in substantial numbers for years. In effect, the proficiency of the American military causes it to be overextended. British Major General Richard Barrons, a veteran of the Balkans and Iraq now serving in Afghanistan, told me he learned during the most depressing days in Baghdad that “the long view is the primary weapon against fate.” If you are willing to stay, you can turn any situation around for the good. But that is an imperial mind-set, with its assumption of a near-permanent presence, which today’s Washington cannot abide, even as its own strategy drives toward that outcome.

At the core of a withdrawal strategy is the building of the Afghan army and police force. In charge of this effort is Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, who, like McChrystal and Rodriguez, is a 1976 graduate of West Point, and like them was transformed by the “band of brothers” belief system forged in Iraq. There, as a spokesman, Caldwell “saw us go from the depths of despair to ‘this is going to work.’” He added, “I have a young family, and this will be the third of five Christmases I will be away from them. I did not have to be here, but I absolutely believe in this mission with Stan.”

I challenged Caldwell about reports of 90 percent illiteracy in the Afghan security forces. He answered: “The recruits may not know how to read, but they are incredibly street-smart. They’re survivalists. Basic soldiering here does not require literacy. We give them a course in how to read and issue them pens afterwards. They take tremendous pride in that. In Afghanistan, a pen in a shirt pocket is a sign of literacy. We’re three or four years behind Iraq in building an army, but if the ground situation improves, like in Iraq, political and media pressure will dissipate, and that will buy time.”

A deal with the insurgents constitutes another part of a withdrawal strategy. While becoming more organizationally formidable since 9/11, the Taliban have also modified their behavior. Mullah Omar has sent out a directive banning beheadings and unauthorized kidnappings as well as other forms of violent and criminal activity, according to both Al-Jazeera and ISAF officials. “In a way, we’re seeing a kinder, gentler Taliban,” said both Commander Eggers and General Flynn. Moreover, in working with the tribes in the spirit of Churchill’s Malakand Field Force, Flynn, the intelligence chief, went so far as to suggest that the insurgent leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are both “absolutely salvageable.” “The HIG already have members in Karzai’s government, and it could evolve into a political party, even though Hekmatyar may be providing alQaeda leaders refuge in Kunar. Hekmatyar has reconcilable ambitions. As for the Haqqani network, I can tell you they are tired of fighting, but are not about to give up. They have lucrative business interests to protect: the road traffic from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to Central Asia.” Lamb, the former SAS commander, added: “Haqqani and Hekmatyar are pragmatists tied to the probability of outcomes. With all the talk of Islamic ideology, this is the land of the deal.”

Again, the resemblance to the 1980s is telling, with leading anti-Soviet combatants like Haqqani and Hekmatyar central to the military equation, and a partially irrelevant Karzai: today ISAF officials talk quietly about working around Karzai by dealing directly with the ministries of interior and defense, and with the offices of the provincial governors, all of which they are fortifying with Western advisers.

The possibility of reaching an accommodation with some insurgents against others, as elusive as it may be, suggests how nonlinear the future is, and how deterministic a linear perspective can be. As in Iraq, surprises lie in store, and they might even be good ones: in so many places in Afghanistan, I saw the raw potential of this country. Despite a deadly, intimidating geography of steep and icy peaks that seem to stretch into infinity when seen from the air, in Afghanistan’s cities I encountered many an intellectual in a cold room with boxy furniture, passionately seeking to move beyond ethnic politics to a democratic, liberal universalism. They reminded me of the civil-society types I had met in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, in cities that, like Kabul, stank of lignite in winter. Then there was Herat, an old Silk Road nexus in western Afghanistan, which, despite 30 years of war, had changed remarkably for the better since I had last seen it, as a backpacker in 1973. Back then it was a ramshackle, Wild West town with barely a paved road. Now it is a sprawling, bustling city with malls, on the same level of development as many places in central Turkey that I knew from the 1980s: an improvement replicated in Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, and other urban areas here, with Kandahar being the striking exception. “Despite 30 years of war,” McChrystal said, in his office, rubbing his eyes from lack of sleep, “civilization grows here like weeds.”

Now the American military is about to bear down hard on Greater Kandahar, where Taliban- and Karzai-affiliated warlords hold considerable sway. “We will get to about 33 percent of the Afghan landmass in the next 15 months or so, affecting 60 percent of the population,” Rodriguez assured me. Once again, we might be poised to overcome the vast, impersonal forces of fate, even as we contribute to our own troubled destiny as a great power.
For further reading please see next pages: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/man-versus-afghanistan/7983/5/

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Norway leads NATO nuclear disarmament initiative

Norway, along with fellow NATO members Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, have joined together to call on the Western-based defence alliance to increase support for achieving a world that is nuclear-weapon-free.

“Our aim is to reduce the importance of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security policy,” said Jonas Gahr Store, the Norwegian Foreign Minister. The foreign ministers of the respective countries have jointly presented the NATO Secretary General with a letter that advocates comprehensive and robust discussions of the alliance’s nuclear policy at the next foreign minister meeting, scheduled for April in Tallinn.

“The views expressed in this joint letter correspond closely to those set out in the Norwegian Government’s disarmament strategy. I am pleased that Norway has such good partners to work with in our efforts to promote disarmament,” stated Mr Store.

Norway Post reports that the collaborative letter is regarded as an important step in the new Strategic Concept process by NATO. Norway has expressed its hope that a review of the concept will provoke a reduction in both the number and significance of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security policy.

“Disarmament and non-proliferation are important security policy tools for reducing the risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to ensure a more peaceful and stable world,” said the Foreign Minister.

Read interesting Special Report of the Council of Foreign Relations on "Future of NATO" that is available for free at: http://www.cfr.org/publication/21044/future_of_nato.html?breadcrumb=%2Fpublication%2Fby_type%2Fspecial_report

You can read in it about NATO´s capabilities, relations with Russia, and EU, etc.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Turkey Criticizes House Committee Vote on Armenian Case

Sebnem Arsu reported from Istanbul to New York Times on an Issue that can seriously effect the ties between the US and its important ally, Turkey.

Turkey’s foreign minister said Friday that the vote by the House Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the mass killing of Armenians early in the last century as genocide would damage ties with the Obama administration and set back reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Armenia.

At least twice before, the House committee has passed similar resolutions, but that was before Turkey and Armenia were in the midst of an internationally mediated reconciliation process.

“Each interference by a third party will make this normalization impossible,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a televised news conference. “If an adviser had whispered ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ in the ear of a member of the House of Representatives, the vote would have come out differently. Can history be treated in such an unserious manner?”

The vote on the nonbinding resolution was 23 to 22.

In recent years, Turkey has sought to play a bigger regional role, re-establishing ties with nearby Arab countries and reaching out to Armenia, whose border with Turkey has been closed since the 1990s, when Armenia was at war with its neighbor, Azerbaijan, a Turkish ally. In 2008, Turkey’s president paid the first visit by a Turkish leader to Armenia in the two nations’ history.

The attempts at normalization began last October with a series of agreements, whose signing was blessed by the Obama administration and attended by Secretary of StateHillary Rodham Clinton. Hard-line Turkish nationalists strongly oppose the rapprochement, and analysts in Turkey said the additional pressure from the United Sates in the form of Thursday’s vote will make proceeding more difficult for the Turkish government.

“It’s a big blow to the process,” said Yavuz Baidar, a columnist with the English language daily, Today’s Zaman. “This means it will drag on for at least another year.”

At the same time, he said, Turkey had been slow to move forward in the agreements with Armenia, causing the process to idle even before the committee vote.

The resolution is less likely to hurt relations with the United States unless it is brought to the floor and passed by the full House — an unlikely possibility, analysts say.

In 2007, the Bush administration, fearful of losing Turkish cooperation over Iraq, lobbied forcefully to keep the resolution from reaching the House floor.

The Obama administration had urged the committee to forgo a vote.

After the vote Thursday, Turkey reacted sharply, recalling its ambassador, Namik Tan, from Washington for consultations.

Turkey’s newspapers featured the news of the vote — and of Turkey’s diplomatic response — on their front pages.

“We called the ambassador back,” proclaimed Hurriyet, the largest circulation newspaper. “A vote crisis with the United States,” Milliyet, another daily, said. “A vote like a comedy,” read the headline in the newspaper Sabah.

Historians say as many as 1.5 million Armenians died in a forced migration by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. Turkey denies that this was a planned genocide, and the topic had long been taboo in Turkey, with no mention of it in history books. Writers and intellectuals, including the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have faced criminal charges for airing the debate.

But in recent years, Turkish intellectuals had made some progress at pushing it out into the public debate, and ethnic Armenians in Turkey fear that passage by the full House — which would be unprecedented — would seriously harm those efforts.

Mr. Davutoglu, the foreign minister, criticized the Obama administration’s efforts to halt Thursday’s vote, saying it had not adequately explained the strength of cooperation between Turkey and the United States, NATO partners. He said that in absence of more effective efforts, “the picture ahead will not be a positive one.”

Some Turkish analysts said Ankara might put up diplomatic obstacles for Washington’s broader regional policies, but it seemed unlikely Turkey would respond strongly unless the resolution won broader House support.

“On one side of the scale, there is the Congress under the influence of ethnic lobby groups, and on the other, there are the greater United States’ interests in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Caucasus,” said Sedat Ergin, a foreign policy analyst at the Hurriyet newspaper. “It is up to the American administration to come up with the best choice between the two.”