Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Afghanistan at the Italian Foreign Policy Forum

Afghanistan has been one of the key topics of discussion at the First Foreign Policy Forum, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 28th 2010. The Forum, divided into six panels, discussed the most pressing issues of Italian Foreign Policy: economic foreign policy, transatlantic relations, European Union, global partnerships, 'new' Middle East and Afghanistan.

Following the March 2010 Af-Pak Strategy, the appointment of a new ISAF Commander, the July 20th Kabul International Conference and the Wikileaks disclosures (which - apparently - were already well know within the experts community!), Afghan war is in a crucial phase.

The panel on Afghanistan was participated by the Afghan Ambassador to Italy, Amb. Musa Maroofi, Russian Federation Ambassador to Italy, Amb. Alexey Meshkov and by Attilio Massimo Iannucci, Special Representative of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The panel has been moderated by Franco Venturini, journalist at Corriere della Sera, one of the major Italian daily newspapers.

Attilio Massimo Iannucci highlighted the stabilizing role of economic development and the contribution that civil-military cooperation can bring forward in this field. "Civilian reconstruction efforts are the reason for not leaving Afghanistan to its own destiny", Iannucci said, echoed by Afghan Ambassador.

Economic development, indeed, is a crucial tool to hinter insurgents sources of recruitment, since many support the cause in return of a daily sum to survive. With other sources of income available, many insurgents will not find a reason for participating to the insurgency.

The economic development is greatly supported by civil-military cooperation, which has operated in three different sectors: direct assistance to people in need, especially at the beginning of the ISAF operations when most basic needs needed to be addressed, education and training of local officers and economic cooperation.

As leading nation of the Regional Command West, Italian troops, NGOs and civilians experts from the local Provincial Reconstruction Team are now concentrating on the last two sectors, with a special focus on a National Justice Programme and on the education and training of Borders and Customs Police officers.

Training has been intensively pursued by Italian experts and authorities. 20 high officers from the Borders and Custom Police Department have been trained in Italy, along with other bilateral and multilateral training opportunities for Afghan police officers and military personnel.

Furthermore, a group of afghan marble entrepreneurs was invited to visit the Italian marble district of Carrara, since a flourished marble industry around Herat existed in the past and it has survived 30 years of war. Until now, tough, marble was extracted with controlled explosion making it a dangerous and product-wasting process. With support from Italian companies, several marble-cut machineries will be delivered to Afghan companies, making it possible to local entrepreneurs to imporve thier production and cut costs.

"The international community has greatly contributed to Afghan economic development, but much importance must be given to the investment flows to and from the country", Iannucci said.

Therefore we can assume that security will improve if economic development will continue. Only then, there will be less need for military support and increasingly more need for civilian expertise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

AFGHANISTAN AT A CROSSROADS by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General

[Today, Tuesday July 20th 2010] the Afghan capital Kabul will host a unique event. An International Conference on Afghanistan will bring together more than 70 countries, international and regional organisations and financial institutions to support a plan for development, governance, and stability. The meeting will result in a clear way forward for the transition to Afghan responsibility and ownership. In short, it will be a milestone in the process by which Afghans are finally becoming masters of their own house.

This new political momentum has not come about by happenstance. It is the result of a sustained effort both by Afghans and the international community to give this country a new lease on life. The tragedy of “9/11” was a wake-up call for all of us. Indifference was no longer an option. Engagement was our only choice. Leaving Afghanistan to its own devices would have spelled more instability there, and more terrorist attacks worldwide.

There is no denying that the international community initially underestimated the magnitude of the challenge. After nine years of international engagement, it has become painfully obvious that the price we have to pay is much higher than expected – most of all in the loss of life of international and Afghan soldiers.

But Afghanistan is finally moving in the right direction. Maybe the insurgents think they can wait us out, but we will stay for as long as it takes to finish our job. Our training of Afghan soldiers and police is ahead of schedule, and by next year there will be the 300.000 afghan security forces – and they can’t be waited out.

By sending 40.000 additional international troops, we have demonstrated our commitment to protecting the Afghan people by holding areas we have liberated from the insurgents.

We are also finally taking the fight to the Taliban where it hurts them the most. Over the past months, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has launched military offensives into Taliban heartland – Helmand and Kandahar. These operations, in which the Afghan security forces play an important role, will inevitably lead to intensified fighting. Regrettably there will be more casualties. But these military actions are of tremendous political importance. They contribute to the marginalisation of the Taliban as a political and military force. And this will encourage many who joined the Taliban to quit their ranks and engage in the reconciliation effort.

Reconciliation, however, is no blank cheque. Renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan constitution, including women’s rights, is a precondition for successful reintegration. The Afghan authorities know this, and we will keep reminding them.

The next important political step after the Kabul Conference will be the parliamentary elections in September. Several times since the fall of the Taliban terror regime, Afghans have flocked to the ballot boxes. Despite death threats, they have voted in large numbers. Nothing could illustrate better the desire of the Afghan people to take their future into their own hands. NATO-led forces will support these elections, but the overall responsibility for their security and their free and fair conduct will lie with the Afghans themselves.

All these developments point in the same direction: a gradual transition to Afghan lead. This transition will not be done on the basis of an artificial timetable. It will be done on the basis of clear assessments of the political and security situation in each area. Where and when we do it, it will be irreversible.

Starting the transition does not mean that the struggle for Afghanistan’s future as a stable country in a volatile region will be over. Even when our forces move into a supporting role, Afghanistan will need the continued support of the international community, including NATO. It is important that we send a clear message of long-term commitment. And the Afghan population needs to know that we will continue to stand by them as they are charting their own course into the future.

To underline this commitment, I believe that NATO should develop a long-term cooperation agreement with the Afghan Government. Such a partnership will give Afghanistan even more self-confidence as it is again taking control of its own fate.

We now have a new commander of the ISAF mission, General David Petraeus. But our strategy hasn’t changed, because it is the right one. Our objective is clear: to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorism. We are building Afghans’ ability to resist terrorism and extremism on their own. We are changing the political conditions in the key strategic areas of Afghanistan; we are protecting the population; we are strengthening the capability of the elected government; and we are training the Afghan army, to enable Afghanistan to look after its own security. If we and our Afghan partners stick to our strategy and give it time to work, it will.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Germany's armed forces: At ease

Conscription, a staple of Germany’s post-war identity, may be on the way out

SOMETIME between their 18th and 23rd birthdays nearly all German men will be summoned to one of 59 induction centres to be weighed, measured and evaluated. Nearly half will be deemed unfit to serve in the armed forces. Of the rest, the greatest part will opt out, choosing instead the non-military “community service”. In the end some 70,000 men a year are called up for a nine-month stint in the Bundeswehr. (Women are exempt from the draft.) Germany has held to conscription long after most European countries abolished it (most recently Sweden, on July 1st). The “citizen in uniform, anchored in society” is part of the country’s post-war identity.

It may soon be no longer. This month the German legislature passed a law shortening the tour of duty from nine months to six. That was the result of an awkward compromise between the partners in the ruling coalition. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sibling, the Christian Social Union (CSU), consider conscription a “cornerstone” of society. The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) thinks it a “massive intervention in young people’s freedom,” says Elke Hoff, an FDP deputy in the Bundestag. Cutting conscription back to six months may be a prelude to dispensing with it altogether. “There are so many disadvantages” to the truncated service “that you can’t keep it going long term,” says Hilmar Linnenkamp of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a think-tank in Berlin.

The main justification for the draft—the threat of invasion by a conventional army—disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is wobbling now because of two newer developments. The first is that money, always in short supply, is drying up. The government’s new €80 billion ($102 billion) savings package includes €8.3 billion of cuts to the defence budget over four years. The second is that the defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, an energetic sort with the air of a cavalry officer, relishes smashing taboos, or at least threatening to. Old problems are getting fresh looks.

The biggest is that the Bundeswehr is not set up for the tasks that await it. With just 6,700 of its 250,000 troops deployed abroad it is “at the limit” of its capacity, says Mr zu Guttenberg. The Bundeswehr does not aspire to be like the American or British armies, which have expeditionary traditions and can keep a much bigger share of their soldiers in the field. But to be a more useful ally, Germany will have to do better. The Bundeswehr still spends billions on weapons ordered during the cold war that are virtually useless against elusive insurgents like the Taliban.

Some changes have been made. The Bundeswehr is half the size it was at the end of the cold war and is the third-largest provider of troops to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan. But it has not changed enough. Mr zu Guttenberg wants it to be “more professional, faster and more flexible” and able to “deploy our soldiers anywhere in the world,” he told Der Spiegel.

Conscription is an obstacle to this. Draftees cannot be deployed abroad. They cost the Bundeswehr some €400m a year; training and organising them ties up an estimated 10,000-20,000 professional soldiers who could otherwise be employed more usefully. Mr zu Guttenberg, although a member of the conscription-loving CSU, wants to end the draft, but he has yet to persuade fellow conservatives or say what will replace it.

It will be traumatic if it happens. The draft is anchored in the constitution, which is why reformers talk of “suspending” rather than abolishing it. To its defenders, it is the best way to attract the sort of recruits the armed forces are looking for: not born warriors drawn to violence but thoughtful folk with varied talents who can win over local populations even as they hunt terrorists. Roughly half the soldiers on longer contracts come to the Bundeswehr via the draft; in general they are the better half, says Ulrich Kirsch, head of the BundeswehrVerband, a group that represents soldiers’ interests.

Follow the inner leader

Germans associate the draft with innere Führung, or “inner leadership”, the notion that a soldier should be guided by Germany’s constitutional principles rather than robotically follow orders, especially immoral ones. After unification, conscription helped to re-educate a generation of young East German men who had grown up thinking of democratic West Germany as the enemy.

But as the glue that binds soldiers to their fellow citizens conscription is losing its hold. It has already been shortened from 18 months in the 1960s to nine and now a vestigial six, half of which will be spent training. The downsizing of the armed forces has reduced the demand for conscripts. Refusal in favour of community service is easy. Now only about 15% of young men are called up. Once, the Bundeswehr was a topic of conversation at the family table and the local bar, says Berthold Meyer of the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt. No longer.

Mr zu Guttenberg’s ideas for conscription will be part of a reform package he is expected to propose in September. It is likely to include a reduction in the overall size of the Bundeswehr, possibly to as few as 150,000 troops (the “extreme model”, says the minister), and cutbacks in weapons purchases. The armed forces are overloaded with civilian personnel and top-heavy with officers. Mr zu Guttenberg has created a “structural commission” to suggest solutions.

His radicalism may be curbed. Every base he would close and programme he would trim has a lobby to defend it. A decision to end conscription might require approval by the party conventions of the CDU and CSU. Even if his boldest ideas get through that will not be the final word. The European Union’s 27 armies have barely begun claiming the savings that would come from pooling resources and sharing tasks. Defence reform, the dashing Mr zu Guttenberg will discover, is a war of attrition, not a cavalry charge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reset at Sea: US-NATO-Russian Cooperation in the Struggle against Piracy

Piracy has a long history and the struggle with it is closely tied to concepts of national sovereignty, freedom of the seas, and the protection of life and property at sea. In 1609, Hugo Grotius, (1583-1645), the great Dutch legal theorist, provided the legal foundation for making piracy unlawful. In his book, Mare Liberum (Free Ocean) he argued that the ocean belonged to no one state and all were free to use oceanic routes for trade or passenger traffic. Those who attacked shipping outside of a state of war between two sovereign states were no more than bandits at sea and subject to repression by any naval forces that came upon them. International law did recognize the right of warring states to conduct guerre de course (raids upon the opponent's merchant shipping by warships and armed merchantmen acting as privateers under a letter of marque and reprisal granted by his sovereign). By the mid-19th century, the European powers had agreed to abolish privateering, The US Constitution still lists issuing letters of marque and reprisal as part of the enumerated powers of congress. Yet, apart from unsuccessful efforts to persuade congress to issue letters of marque and reprisal in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, no modern application has been made. Instead, the civilized world has accepted the concept that piracy defined as robbery and illegal violence at sea is a threat to maritime commerce.

While piracy has persisted on the margins of world trade, the recent pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Aden have brought the problem back to global attention. Since 2005, the International Maritime Organization has called for efforts to combat piracy in this area. The fact that Somalia is a failed state torn apart by on-going civil war, set the stage for this 21st century piracy. A weak national government in Somalia, locked in an on-going struggle with opposing Islamic forces has been unable to establish de facto sovereignty over the rest of Somalia, while the autonomous province of Puntland has become the most important base for pirate operations along the coast. These pirates are not interested in seizing cargoes for disposition, but seek to hijack vessels and hold their crews for ransom, which is frequently paid out, making piracy big business.

In 2006 Combined Task Force (CTF) 150, which was composed of naval forces conducting counter-terrorism off the Horn of Africa, began anti-piracy operations from their base at Djibouti. Other countries joined the struggle. In June 2008, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution condemning piracy and robbery at sea and authorized the application of all means necessary to suppress such acts. These efforts sought to apply existing maritime law, international law, and national laws (which limits them to having jurisdiction over their own citizens), to deal with these attacks on merchant ships. The initial goal of naval operations against these pirates is to “deter and disrupt” their activities, to detain, interrogate, and disarm pirates. However, these actions would then culminate in the pirates' release. In the absence of an international tribunal to prosecute pirates, naval powers could not dissuade pirates (who did not face trial and punishment for their actions) from continuing their activities which continued to be profitable at low risk. In January 2009, the US provided the leadership to create CTF 151 as an international naval force to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. However, as a consequence of this legal gap, the number of pirate attacks in 2009 increased to 214 vessels with 47 being hijacked at sea. Russian naval forces began their own patrols to suppress piracy off the Horn of Africa in the fall of 2008 and have maintained a naval presence since then. Russian experts have written extensively on the problem of international maritime law and international relations (Mezhdunarodnaia Zhizn’, No. 2, March 2009).

In July 2009 President, Dmitry Medvedev, proposed a solution: the creation of a separate international court to try cases of piracy (Nezavisimaia Gazeta, April 8, 2010). The response to this proposal was positive. In April of this year, the UN Security Council passed unanimously a Russian resolution calling on the UN Secretary General to provide “concrete” measures for the prosecution of pirates, including a special chamber at the national court of one of the countries in the region (RIA Novosti, April 27).

The background to the UN resolution involves increasing international frustration over the continuing pirate attacks, especially the hijacking of merchant ships, in the face of an international naval presence. The profile of Russian anti-piracy actions off the Horn of Africa increased in 2010 and took on an aspect of deeper international cooperation. On March 4, Krasnaia Zvezda announced that the Commander-in-Chief of Russian Naval Forces, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskii, discussed anti-piracy cooperation with the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Pierre-François Forissier. The article went on to explore the global response to the threat of piracy and noted Russia’s ongoing commitment of naval forces to the task (Krasnaia Zvezda, March 4). On March 12, Russian warships involved in anti-piracy operations began formal cooperation with CTF 151 when the Russian ASW Frigate, Neustrashimy, from the Baltic Fleet met the USN destroyer, Farragut, off the Horn of Africa. The Russian captain of the Neustrashimy met with the Commander of CTF-151, Rear Admiral Bernard Miranda (USN), to discuss coordinating anti-piracy activities between Russian and CTF-151 naval forces (Krasnaia Zvezda, March 13). On the same day the Russian Rescue Tug, SB-36 from the Black Sea Fleet escorted the Thai fishing trawler, Union-3, when the vessel and its crew were freed from pirates off the Seychelles Islands after reportedly paying a $3 million ransom. Among the crew of the fishing trawler were 22 Russian seamen. The Union-3 had been seized in late October 2009 (Izvestia, March 9).

Russian naval activities in support of anti-piracy operations have increased in intensity and deepened in terms of international cooperation since March. On May 5, Somali pirates attacked and seized the Liberian-flagged and Russian owned tanker, Moscow University, in the Indian Ocean about 350 miles east of the Gulf of Aden. The ship’s crew was able to report the seizure, disable the ship’s engines, and lock themselves in the rudder compartment. A NATO helicopter located the hijacked ship, and the Russian cruiser, Marshal Shaposhnikov, raced to intercept the tanker early the following morning. The Somali pirates fired on the Marshal Shaposhnikov’s helicopter and its captain, certain of the crew’s safety, ordered his vessel to fire on the tanker and sent a boarding party of naval infantry to recapture it. In the ensuing fight one pirate was killed. The crew was rescued, and the ten remaining pirates disarmed, placed under arrest, and interrogated before being released to their boat. Since the vessel was sailing under a Liberian flag, Russia could not prosecute the captured pirates. The Staff of the Russian Pacific Fleet noted the assistance of the NATO helicopter in the operation and called the action a good example of international cooperation (Novaia Gazeta, Izvestia, May 7).

Evidence of deepening naval cooperation in the struggle against the Somali pirates was shortly forthcoming. On May 5, NATO Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, agreed to include Russia-NATO cooperation in the struggle against Somali pirates as part of a plan of military-to-military cooperation for 2010 (ARMS-TASS, May 5). During the same period President Medvedev signed a decree imposing an arms sales embargo on Somalia (Voenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, May 5-11).

Just over one week later the Marshal Shaposhnikov visited the port of Djibouti and the representative of the Djibouti navy announced that Russian warships involved in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden would be allowed to use that port as a base of operations (Vzgliad, May 17). On May 24 the Russia-NATO Council discussed cooperation in the struggle against Somali pirates (Kommersant, May 20). At the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Riga, Latvia, the Russian delegation composed of members of the State Duma had the usual issue of concerns to raise (Russian military doctrine, NATO’s expansion, the continuing dispute over the territorial integrity of Georgia). However, the Russian parliamentarians and their American counterparts found common ground for cooperation in the struggle against Somali pirates and the need to seek an international legal regime that would permit their trial upon capture (Biznes & Baltiia, June 1).

On June 2, local press in the Russian Far East reported that Russian merchant seamen were taking part in an international petition drive to persuade national governments to unite their efforts in the struggle against piracy (Vladivostok, June 2). On June 4, the Russian navy announced the deployment of a flotilla from the Pacific Fleet on a friendship visit to the US. The vessels, the cruiser Varyag, the rescue tug, Fotii Krilov, and the tanker, Boris Butoma, under the command of Rear Admiral Vladimir Kasatanov will visit San Francisco with the goal of developing “practical and friendly contacts between the Russian Navy and the US Navy.” In a review of Russian naval activities during this summer’s deployment season, the author of the article noted the continuing deployment of Russian warships off Somalia. The author noted: “The contribution of the Russian navy to the efforts of the international community in the struggle with pirates off the coasts of Somali is already highly appreciated by many influential international figures” (Krasnaia Zvezda, June 4). In this area of naval cooperation against a common threat to freedom of the seas, the US-NATO “reset” with Russia appears to be working because there are shared interests that override conflicts in other areas.