Wagner: A closer look at Russian private security and military enterprise

by Caleb M. Larson. He covers U.S.-American security and foreign policy as well as European defense with a focus on Eastern Europe and Russia. He holds a Bachelor of Art in History from UCLA and a Master of Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.

The Russian private military company Wagner has a complex and convoluted history. Founded in 2013, Wagner has gone through several iterations. An early precursor of Wagner called the Slavonic Corps was sent on a short-lived mission in Syria and was quickly disbanded upon return to Russia. Some of Wagner’s leadership was also arrested, initially indicating little to no coordination with the Russian military or intelligence services. Later missions, particularly in Crimea, Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan, indicate closer ties to Russian military and intelligence services.

To date, Wagner has conducted operations in Syria and is presumed to be part of a Russian force in the CAR and Sudan. There is also speculation that Wagner has a presence in Libya, although hard documentation is difficult to come by. Wagner’s interests in the countries are purported to operate in vary from economic gain to advancing Russian foreign policy objectives.

Some mercenary of the  Slavonic Corps in Syria presumably in October 2013.

Some mercenary of the Slavonic Corps in Syria presumably in October 2013.

Wagner compared to other Private Military Contractors
American Private Military Contractors (PMCs) such as Academi (formerly Blackwater USA), Triple Canopy, and DynCorp typically work under contract in support of larger military missions and have served in logistics, escort, personal protection, or in a training and advisory role, rather than exclusively on the front lines of conflict. These are support missions that are fundamentally different from Wagner’s role. Wagner partners with the Russian military for issues of transportation and logistics, similarly to their western counterparts. However, in both Ukraine and Syria members of Wagner served at times to augment Russian and/or local forces or have served as an “elite infantry“, in direct-action operations, not merely as advisors or trainers. Wagner is also reported to suffer unusually high numbers of casualties for a PMC, which suggests that in some theaters Wagner serves in primarily a combat role, rather than less hazardous non-combat tasks like training and advising.

In CAR and perhaps in Libya, Wagner’s primary mission appears to be the extraction of mineral wealth, securing arms deals, and training local specialist forces, rather than pursuing discernable foreign policy objectives in line with those of their country of origin. This differentiation is important when considering the role of the aforementioned western PMCs, who typically do not operate as independently as Wagner seems to, but are more closely bound to national objectives.

Early iteration: the Slavonic Corps
An early foray by Wagner into Syria began in September 2013, when several hundred (perhaps put to 2,000) Russian volunteers were contracted by the St. Petersburg-based Moran Security Group. These volunteers formed the short-lived Slavonic Corps, a Wagner precursor. According to their corporate website, Moran is a “an international group of companies offering premiere security, transportation, medical, rescue, and consulting services” and operates offices in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Guangzhou, China, and has conducted operations in various Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as maritime operations in the Indian Ocean. To date, Moran Security Group has an explicit association with the Slavonic Corps.

The volunteers were contracted rather hastily, some signing contracts on a train station platform and told to be ready to ship out on short notice. During recruiting, volunteers were under the impression that they would be operating in some capacity with the Syrian government and/or the FSB and were promised substantial sums of money within days. The reality was quite different. While there was a Syrian partner, this partner was ostensibly not the Syrian government, but rather a local strongman. At the behest of their Syrian employer, the Slavonic Corps was involved in a single skirmish that ended in near-encirclement and retreat. An opportune sandstorm allowed the Slavonic Corp to slip away and saved their annihilation, resulting in relatively light casualties (“The Last Battle of the ‘Slavonic Corps’“, The Interpreter, November 16, 2013)

The Slavonic Corps spent only about two months in Syria which is much shorter than the contracts stipulated for five months. After returning to their airfield base, the volunteers were transported to Moscow by plane. Upon arrival in Russia, their belongings and social media were searched for information related to their time in Syria. Those of higher rank were reportedly detained while those of lower rank were sent home—without pay.

Some mercenary of the Russian private military company Wagner in the Starobeshevo area of Ukraine’s Donetsk in the Summer of 2014.

Some mercenary of the Russian private military company Wagner in the Starobeshevo area of Ukraine’s Donetsk in the Summer of 2014.

In 2014, an iteration of Wagner was involved in the annexation of Crimea along with volunteers, Ukrainian military defectors, and other Russian units. Although operating under the Wagner name, those operating in Crimea were likely not the same individuals who had been to Syria in 2013, although it is possible that some command elements were retained.

Wagner’s actions in Crimea indicated a relatively high level of capability. Although unproven, Wagner is credited by some sources with several assassinations, namely the Luhansk People’s Republic’s Minister of Defense, Oleg Anashchenko, and leaders of several other armed factions, indicating a level of expertise significantly higher than that of inexperienced volunteers. Anashchenko was one of several high-level participants in an unsuccessful coup in 2014 in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). These killings could demonstrate an instance in which Wagner and Russia coordinate to achieve Russian foreign policy objectives, as a lack of order in the LPR. Infighting among LPR leadership does not stabilize the LPR into frozen conflict and are not in Russia’s interest.

Involvement in Ukraine seemingly allowed Wagner to rebound from their debacle in Syria. Demonstrating high-end capabilities and greatly improved C2 illustrated that Wagner could carry out relatively complex missions in urban areas while avoiding civilian casualties and successfully achieving mission objectives. Their success, particularly in Crimea, was a strong indicator of renewed confidence in the organization.

Syria: second attempt
Wagner’s success in Ukraine at least partially contributed to additional responsibilities and a return to Syria. One event worthy of note was Wagner’s involvement in retaking of Palmyra, a historically important city in central Syria and formerly an ISIL bastion. Wagner was part of a combined Syrian Army/pro-government militia force that appears to have fought in association with Russian air power and suffered several casualties there.

Although Wagner was part of the successful assault on Palmyra, the mission’s success was not due entirely to Wagner’s battlefield prowess. The assembled force was allegedly around 6,000 strong, and Wagner only made up a small part of this group. Russian and Syrian airpower greatly aided the attack, as did superior numbers. Still, success at least by association seemed to have contributed to Wagner’s rehabilitated image as a capable fighting force.

Wagner’s recent involvement in Syria has been relatively well-publicized after the February 2018 debacle near Deir al-Zour in which a mixed Russian-Syrian pro-government force moved on a US commando team in the area. While exact figures are difficult to confirm concretely, casualty estimates range from a couple of dozens to over two hundred (Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “How a 4-Hour Battle Between Russian Mercenaries and U.S. Commandos Unfolded in Syria“, The New York Times, May 24, 2018). Interestingly, Russian military officials denied responsibility for the force massing against US positions. This could indicate that PMCs like Wagner serve as politically expendable cannon fodder for probing the battlefield in place for regular Russian military personnel.

CAR & Sudan Expansion

With the consent of the UN Security Council Committee created pursuant to UNSC Resolution 2127, an allocation of small arms and ammunition from the stocks of Russia’s Defence Ministry was made available to the Central African Army in late January – early February. Five military [sic] and 170 civilian instructors from Russia were sent to train CAR service personnel with the knowledge of this committee. — Artyom Kozhin, “Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department Artyom Kozhin’s answer to a media question on cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Central African Republic“, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, March 22, 2018.

In keeping with the trend of economically profitable expansion, Wagner has most likely established a presence in the CAR and Sudan. Both host contingents of Russian troops, however, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty which contingents and how many of them are employees of Wagner due to the nature of where they are and based on official Foreign Ministry statements. These “170 civilian instructors”, mentioned in a statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in March 2018, are presumably employees of Wagner.

The CAR contains relatively large mineral deposits, namely diamonds, gold—and uranium. All three are commercially viable, and a Wagner presence in mineral-rich areas could pay large dividends for a company that is not exclusively bound by geopolitical decisions and allowed to gain financially. The Russian contingent there is reportedly operating in or near the regions where these minerals can be exploited, and long-running political instability in CAR due to competing militia groups could help facilitate this mineral exploitation (Ruslan Leviev, “Russian Presence in the Central African Republic“, Conflict Intelligence Team, April 23, 2018). Wagner’s current mission appears to be training the presidential guard of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, perhaps to curry favor for future political or mineral deals.

In November 2017, al-Bashir voiced the possibility of Sudan hosting a Russian naval base on the Red Sea, which would allow Russia to further project power into much of the Middle East, Africa, and parts of the Mediterranean. It could complement the role that Syria has played as a proving ground of sorts for newer Russian equipment, and by providing combat experience, especially to pilots.

Translation: Russian PMCs in Sudan (voiceover)

Perhaps most speculative is Wagner’s presence in Libya. An article in March 2017 detailed Russia’s involvement in Libya in support of General Khalifa Haftar. Recently, a similar claim was corroborated by a Russian source, which elaborated on possible motivations for a Russian presence in Libya—ranging from recovering money from a Gaddafi-era arms deal, completing a planned Tripoli-Benghazi rail link by Russian Railways, capitalizing on Libya’s oil reserves, being able to control refugee flows into Europe, or perhaps a combination of these issues (Dmitry Kartsev, “Russia Is Suspected of Deploying Troops to Libya, but What’s Moscow’s Play in This Muddy Conflict?“, Meduza, October 11, 2018). At this point in time, these theories are speculative, although a Wagner presence in Libya could give Russia leverage in other areas to advance Russian foreign policy objectives and is perhaps an example of the Wagner-Kremlin axis.

“Patriot”: a new iteration?
Another PMC, Patriot, is reported to be operating in Syria and CAR as well. Patriot seems to be structured in much the same way as Wagner, their recruit pool is ex-military, and Patriot works in tandem with Russian security services, but apparently pay better than Wagner and are more focused on security, training, and personal protection, depending on the theater in question.

PMCs in Russia serve a fundamentally different role than their western counterparts. Typically, operating more like highly trained shock troops rather than pulling guard duty or logistics, Wagner, in particular has served two primary functions—enrichment for the Wagner group itself via operations in minerally lucrative areas, or as an easily-deniable instrument of the Russian Ministry of Defense that fights to advance Russian foreign policy objectives.

Although questions of legality abound, the Wagner model is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Dead Russian soldiers can cause public opinion to sour, while dead and deniable volunteers do not. For that reason, future operations involving Wagner and other PMCs are unlikely to dissipate. Russian PMCs are here to stay.

• • •

Dangerous Investigations
It seems that Wagner is shy of the public and is probably willing to take drastic measures to protect its interests. On July 30, three Russian journalists, Orkhan Gemal, Alexander Rastorguev, and Kirill Radchenko, were killed in the CAR while investigating Wagner’s operations — probably only a coincidence. However, the investigation was funded by ex-oil tycoon Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but officially the death of the three journalists was due to a robbery. At least two other Russian journalists have also suffered while researching Wagner, including Maxim Borodin, who suddenly fell to his death from a balcony in Yekaterinburg in April, and Denis Korotkov, a Saint Petersburg journalist, forced into hiding after receiving death threats owing to his work on Wagner. (Neil Hauer, “Russia’s Favorite Mercenaries“, The Atlantic, August 27, 2018).
Posted in Caleb M. Larson, English, Mercenary, Russia, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

China’s Long-Range Bomber Flights Pose New Threat to Regional Powers and U.S.

by Darien Cavanaugh. He is writing on politics, foreign policy, global conflict, and weapons platforms has been published at War is Boring, offiziere.ch, The National Interest, Real Clear Defense, Yahoo! News, The Week, Global Comment, and the Center for Securities Studies. To see more of his work, visit his website.

A Xian H-6K Strategic Bomber in flight.

A Xian H-6K Strategic Bomber in flight.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has sent its Xian H-6K strategic bombers on an increasing number of long-range flights in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years.

Before 2015, China’s bombers stayed relatively close to its coast and were regarded almost exclusively as a means of deterrence and self-defense. However, the bombers now routinely travel beyond the First Island Chain. The H-6K bombers have traveled 1,000 km from China’s coast during some of these flights, which brought them within striking distance of potential U.S. military targets in the Second Island Chain, most notably Guam.

Map of the First Island Chain and the Second Island Chain.

Map of the First Island Chain and the Second Island Chain (Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006“, Annual Report to Congress, 2006, p. 15).

The flights are another example of how China’s military doctrine is shifting away from relying primarily on “active defense” and toward developing greater offensive capabilities, enhanced power projection, and achieving strategic goals well beyond its traditional sphere of influence. The flights are also another indicator that China increasingly believes it will be able to effectively compete with the U.S. military in the near future.

A new report from the RAND Corporation chronicles the history of China’s long-range bomber flights in the Asia-Pacific region and places them within the context of the “remarkable strategic transformation” that the PLAAF has undergone over the last two decades. “Once viewed as a backward force equipped with antiquated aircraft flown by poorly trained pilots, the PLAAF has gradually stepped out of the shadow of China’s ground forces and emerged as one of the world’s premier air forces,” the report asserts.

The shift in PLAAF doctrine can be traced back to 1999 when then-president Jiang Zemin began a push to improve both the defensive and offensive capabilities of all branches of the People’s Liberation Army and particularly the PLAAF. One of the most significant doctrinal changes for the PLAAF has been a growing emphasis on air-to-surface combat with the goal of “achieving air superiority by striking enemy aircraft and airfields on the ground” (Derek Grossman et al., “Chinas Long-Range Bomber Flights: Drivers and Implications“, RAND Corporation, 2018, p. 29).  

China’s current president, Xi Jinping, who came to power in March of 2013, has accelerated the modernization of the PLAAF and expanded its strategic goals. In April of 2014, PLAAF commander Ma Xiaotian called for the PLAAF to assume a more active role in China’s maritime security. When Lt. Gen. Ding Laihang became commander of the PLAAF in August 2017, he likewise expressed his desire to continue the PLAAF’s outward expansion. Speaking to a gathering of 1,000 trainee pilots at the PLA Air Force Aviation University in Changchun, Jilin Province, Ding stated that the PLAAF was undertaking “an unprecedented deep reform” and that achieving China’s new strategic goals “requires the ability to project power and make strikes over long distances”. He noted that “exercises on the open seas will become a regular part of training”.

Citizens watch a Xian H-6 Strategic Bomber during a theme exhibition which marks the 90th Anniversary of founding the People's Liberation Army on July 27, 2017 in Beijing, China.

Citizens watch a Xian H-6 Strategic Bomber during a theme exhibition which marks the 90th Anniversary of founding the People’s Liberation Army on July 27, 2017 in Beijing, China.

Historical Milestones in China’s Long-Range Bomber Flights
Since 2015, PLAAF’s H-6Ks have flown on at least 38 long-range over-water flights in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the RAND report (Derek Grossman et al., p. 1).

An H-6K strategic bomber crossed the First Island Chain for the first time by passing through the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines in March of 2015. In November of that year, four H-6Ks accompanied by one Shaanxi Y-8 and one Tupolev Tu-154 transport aircraft flew through the Miyako Strait between Okinawa Island and Miyako Island. Both of those flights reportedly flew 1,000 km away from China’s coast. A 2018 U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) report stated that during those flights the bombers flew “within LACM [land-attack cruise missile] range of Guam”.

The first H-6K flight into the South China Sea “likely” occurred in May of 2016 and crossed over Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands. The second flight, which passed over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, occurred in July of 2016, just four days after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled against China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

After H-6Ks passed by Taiwan on several previous flights, they began circumnavigating the island in November of 2016. According to the RAND report, the PLAAF has conducted at least 14 such flights around the island, some of which included support-aircraft. On at least two occasions the support-aircraft included Sukhoi Su-30, Chengdu J-10, and Shenyang J-11 fighter jets for at least part of the journey, but the fighters broke away from the bombers and other aircraft before approaching Taiwan.

The initiation and rising operational tempo of PLAAF bomber flights is notable because it demonstrates a new capability designed to challenge U.S. military operations and threaten U.S. allies and partners. Bombers are yet another aspect of Beijing’s growing power projection capabilities that will complement its expanding maritime and missile capabilities. — Derek Grossman et al., “Chinas Long-Range Bomber Flights: Drivers and Implications“, RAND Corporation, 2018, p. 1.

Disputes over Taiwan and the South China Sea
Strategic signaling and external propaganda are undoubtedly two purposes of the flights, especially in regard to China’s regional rivals and territorial disputes, such as the Spratly Islands and Taiwan, which China still views as a breakaway province. For instance, the PLAAF released images of H-6K bombers flying over disputed waters for the first time in the days following the July 2016 PCA ruling against China.

According to the DoD, in the event of a conflict between China and Taiwan and its allies, H-6Ks could conduct “shorter-range strikes targeting eastern Taiwan from all directions”. Beijing has not been subtle about flaunting its military prowess at Taiwan. After H-6Ks bombers accompanied by Su-30 and J-11 fighters and several support-aircraft circumnavigated Taiwan from north to south in December of 2017, a PLAAF spokesperson referred to the flight as an “island encirclement patrol” and said the PLAAF was “an important force for effectively shaping the situation, controlling crises, containing war, and winning wars” (see also video from the Chinese state television broadcaster CCTV below). The RAND report notes that a post on the PLAAF’s official Weibo account that featured images of the bombers passing near Taiwan suggested they were in Chinese territory, an allusion to China’s claim that Taiwan is still a province of China (Derek Grossman et al., p. 22).

In September of 2016 a large group of PLAAF aircraft, including H-6Ks, Su-30s, and refueling tankers, flew through the Miyako Strait, again. The DoD report from 2017 said this was the PLAAF’s “most complex long-distance strike training to date”. The RAND report cites the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, which implies that the flight was a response to the Japanese Defense Minister Inada Miyazaki’s suggestion that the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force might join the U.S. Navy in patrols of the South China Sea (Derek Grossman et al., p. 15).

The PLAAF began conducting even more antagonistic flights near Japan in July of 2017 when six H-6Ks passed through the Miyako Strait before veering north and flying along Japan’s east coast to the Kii Peninsula in violation of Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). “Tokyo has already been contending with air incursions into Japan’s ADIZ by PLAAF and PLAN Aviation fighter aircraft, as well as other types of military aircraft in recent years”, the RAND report notes. “Bombers, however, are a relatively new phenomenon” (Derek Grossman et al., p. 45).

The reactions from regional governments have been somewhat muted, even when China crosses into their ADIZ zones. Japan monitors all of China’s flights near its airspace, and Taiwan intercepts all flights into its airspace, but there has otherwise been little response. Japan did, however, recently tripled the number of Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters it is purchasing from the U.S.

For its part, the U.S. has maintained a continuous bomber presence, based primarily out of Guam, in the South China Sea since 2004. Both the U.S. Air Force and Navy continue to patrol near the Spratly Islands and essentially ignore China’s claim to the archipelago.

An H-6k bomber with escort.

An Xian H-6 Strategic Bomber with escort.

Limitations and New Capabilities
Despite the considerable improvements to the PLAAF’s capabilities over the past two decades, it still suffers from significant logistical, technological, and experiential limitations. For instance, China does not have yet overseas bases that can provide refueling or other support for long-range bomber missions, nor does it have a viable air-refuelable bomber or support-aircraft. However, according to RAND, China is developing a new model of the H-6, sometimes referred to as H-6N, that will be air-refuelable with a range of 12,000 km. The first test flight was apparently conducted at the end of 2016. At the same time, the DoD report 2018 on the Chinese military acknowledges only that “China may add an aerial refueling capability to at least some H-6s” (emphasis added).

Even if China has developed air-refuelable H-6Ks, or will do so in the near future, it currently does not have any aircraft that are reliably capable of refueling them. China has a few Ilyushin Il-78s it purchased from Ukraine in 2011, but it has not been able to integrate them fully. It also has a fleet of 12 HY-6U tankers, but as the RAND report points out, they are “too small and technologically obsolete to fulfill the needs of long-distance air combat”. (Derek Grossman et al., p. 53)

Another concern for China is that the current range limitations of PLAAF fighters would mean that H-6Ks on long-range missions would not have fighters to defend them and would therefore “be easy targets for American, Japanese, and Taiwanese air defenders long before they could get within range of Guam”.  

The PLAAF is developing a version of its Xian Y-20 heavy transport that can provide aerial refueling capabilities for both bombers and fighters such as the J-11 and the Sukhoi Su-35, which are capable of receiving aerial refueling. Adding a practical refueling tanker to the PLAAF fleet would expand the operational range of China’s bombers by a substantial distance while also enabling fighters and other support-aircraft to accompany the bombers, thus improving the survivability and effectiveness of the bombers in a combat scenario.

Y-20 flight on Airshow China 2016.

Y-20 flight on Airshow China 2016.

In addition to the development of new H-6Ks and Y-20s, China plans to have its Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter and the Xian H-20 stealth bomber that is in the final stages of development integrated into the air force by the mid-2020s. Although several J-20s are currently “in service” with the PLAAF, China is still experiencing difficulties with the jet’s engines and currently relies on Russia to manufacture them.

The H-20’s range is expected to be 10,000 km, with a combat radius of if 5,000 km. Again, the development of a practical aerial refueling craft for the PLAAF would extend that range even further. This would mean that “instead of simply relying on its MRBM [medium-range ballistic missile] and IRBM [intermediate-range ballistic missile] missile forces, the H-20 will provide Beijing with an alternative means of waging counter-intervention operations against U.S. forces at these ranges during a conflict,” the RAND report states (Derek Grossman et al., p. 50, 54).

The H-20 should also feature “nuclear-conventional integration” and may have the capability to deliver up to six KD-20 air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) or other precision-guided munitions using a rotary launcher.

An article in the China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League of China, boasted that the H-20 will provide the PLAAF with a “strong electronic combat capability” that will enable it to “disturb and destroy incoming missiles and other air and ground targets through a range of equipment including radar, electronic confrontation platform, high power microwave, laser, and infrared equipment”. The article added that the H-20 is also capable of “large-capacity data fusion and transmission” and that it can “interact with large sensor platforms like UAV, early warning aircraft and strategic reconnaissance aircraft to share information and target data”.

The RAND report provided a comparably positive assessment of the benefits the H-20 would bring to the PLAAF:

“The H-20 will provide Beijing with a means of waging counter-intervention operations against U.S. and allied forces at extended ranges throughout the region in the event of a conflict. Additionally, assuming that the H-20 will retain the standoff strike capability of the H-6K, its range using air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) or air-launched ballistic missiles (ALBMs) will be even greater, potentially bringing even more distant targets into range. Coupled with other next-generation aircraft that have entered service over the last several years, including the J-20 fighter and Y-20 transport, these systems will advance China’s capability to project air power throughout Asia and possibly beyond.” — Derek Grossman et al., “Chinas Long-Range Bomber Flights: Drivers and Implications“, RAND Corporation, 2018, p. vii.

While the PLAAF is making formidable strides regarding logistical and technological advancements, it still lacks combat experience. That could prove to be its greatest hindrance to implementing a successful long-range bomber strategy. “Today, China’s military has an increasingly impressive high-tech arsenal, but its ability to use these weapons and equipment remains unclear”, Timothy R. Heath writes in a separate article recently published by RAND. “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) struggles under the legacy of an obsolete command system, rampant corruption, and training of debatable realism, among other issues”.

More information

Posted in Armed Forces, China, Darien Cavanaugh, English, International, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Emergence of Probably the World’s Largest Data-Mining Giant

by Ypsilons 378
Dieser Artikel ist auch in Deutsch verfügbar.

The Chinese government plans to monitor its people with a comprehensive social credit system.” The goal is to promote honesty and sincerity in order to promote economic and social progress. In the process, those who betray trust are to be severely punished.

China is currently busy creating a digital data monster with tentacles extending into every aspect of life. This is causing concerns about the rampant frenzy to collect data and how it will be handled. The Chinese social credit system is officially scheduled to go into operation in 2020. From then on, not one of the country’s approx. 1.5 billion inhabitants will be able to escape the state’s rating system.

Education in “goodness”
Zhang Zheng, director of the China Credit Research Center at Peking University, is an important thought leader and theoretician of the Chinese social credit system. His mindset is rooted in his socialization because the economics professor had initially studied mathematics and natural sciences, which requires a rational and analytical way of thinking. However, dealing with human beings and the problems of society requires a broader, more differentiated approach, which is often difficult for dedicated natural scientists. Social sciences are more than just ones and zeros, black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, but the Chinese social credit system is based precisely on this simplified dualistic way of thinking.

There are two kinds of people in this world: good people and bad people. Now imagine a world where the good ones are rewarded and the bad ones are punished — Zhang Zheng zitiert in Martin Maurtvedt, “The Chinese Social Credit System: Surveillance and Social Manipulation: A Solution to ‘Moral Decay’?“, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, 2017, p. 1.

Zheng is convinced that the Chinese social credit system, i.e., socialization as a “good” person with the help of digital tools, will become a sustainable cornerstone for the moral order of Chinese society. This system is intended to improve the morals of society. Whether the everyday morals of the people or the business ethics of companies, the system is supposed to that the rules are followed. This has particularly obvious consequences on individuals: good citizens would be rewarded and favored, while bad ones would be sanctioned with severe restrictions in daily life.

Structure and function
The Chinese social credit system is based on centralized databases containing such records as medical and court files, online shopping, posts on social networks, internet search queries, travel plans, and purchases with credit cards or payment apps. These records are then analyzed and weigh this cluster of data to come up with a single score. Companies and institutions will have no choice but to make their data available to the system. However, there won’t be much need to put pressure on Chinese companies, since there are already voluntary systems in place such as Alibaba’s Sesame Credit (with over 450 million active users), Tencent (operator of the successful Chinese messaging, social media and mobile payment app WeChat), and Baidu. China’s private internet companies have indicated that the Communist Party may use their compiled data and cutting-edge technologies because, in return, they will gain access to previously inaccessible government databases.

Looking at Sesame Credit, not only payment behavior but also “habits or preferences” and “personal networks” can influence creditworthiness. According to Li Yingyun, head of development at Sesame Credit, someone who plays video games ten hours a day is classified as a sluggish person, but those who buy diapers frequently are likely to be a parent and are therefore willing to accept a higher degree of responsibility. Ambitious gamers risk a lower score, while those who are responsible get a higher one. It’s also worthwhile to pick friends with high scores because these can help increase your score. However, if your friends have low scores, you risk losing points. If you are looking for a partner, you can advertise with a high score, because Sesame Credit cooperates with Baihe, China’s largest online dating agency. This means, however, that people with low scores will inevitably remain single.

Moral role models: Roncheng’s “civilized families” can be admired on such public display boards. (Foto: Simina Mistreanu)

Pilot operation already running
Companies are not the only ones that are already heavily collecting, processing, and evaluating data. Some three dozen Chinese cities are already experimenting with different social credit systems. For example, Rongcheng, a city of about 670,000 inhabitants on the east coast, has been operating a social credit system since 2014 regarded as a showcase project for a China-wide system. With their Honest Shanghai App, Shanghai operates another popular system, which has also implemented facial recognition. To register, the individual’s is captured with the mobile camera and compared and verified with the electronic identity card. A short time later, users get their first score. This score is updated at the end of each month. The criteria and factors used for a high or low rating are confidential. However, the system takes into account about 3,000 pieces of data per person from almost a hundred government data sources (Rob Schmitz, “What’s Your ‘Public Credit Score’? The Shanghai Government Can Tell You“, NPR.org, 03.01.2017).

Even if individual factors evaluated in the pilot projects are confidential, the Chinese social credit system generally concentrates on the evaluation of four key parameters:

  • Commercial activities: commercial activities form the basis of the system, because one of the goals of the Chinese government is to use the system to improve the trust in the commercial sector among citizens, but also between citizens and business. So if you pay your bills on time, you will have a clear advantage. Incidentally, such credit rating systems are also common in the West (for example, Schufa in Germany and FICO in the US). The Chinese, however, go one step further: those who travel without a ticket or who get into debt with spending are, in many cases, no longer allowed to travel by express train or plane. Last year alone, this penalty was imposed about 6.7 million times, according to the official figures of the Supreme Court.
  • We have had the social credit system in our village for several years now. No matter what we do, we think about our credit points. We support the village where we can. We clean a lot and sweep the public areas. Putting garbage or even grass in front of your own door is not allowed. If someone doesn’t follow these rules, they’re considered dishonest. If the village head asks for anything, we do it. Those who keep everything clean and in order are regarded as role models. — cited in Axel Dorloff, “Sozialkredit-System: China auf dem Weg in die IT-Diktatur“, Deutschlandfunk, 09.09.2017.

  • Social behavior: whether online or off, social behavior plays an important role in the assessment. With a reward and punishment mechanism, the system aims to train residents to behave positively, at least as the government sees it. In Rongcheng, whoever helps others or gets involved in city projects will, for example, get 5-10 additional points. A similar system is in place in Shanghai: those who help older inhabitants or the poor can earn additional points, too, but whether this represents moral progress remains questionable.
  • Administrative activities: the system will also simplify administrative procedures, as unauthorized requests for public assistance will result in a deduction of points. This applies in particular to the submission of petitions critical of the government. Those who criticize the Communist Party in the social media should not be surprised if they end up on the blacklist. Requests from people below a certain score will be postponed or even ignored. On the other hand, people with above-average scores already enjoy preferential treatment.
  • Criminal prosecution: law enforcement is already integrated in Rongcheng. If you run a red light, you will immediately lose 5 points; if you drive drunk or are involved in a brawl, you will immediately be blacklisted. The score serves as a kind of criminal record: the inhabitants of Rongcheng have to regularly present their score for job promotions, for membership in the Communist Party, when applying for a bank loan. Nothing happens anymore without a good score.

Rewards and punishments
The rewards and punishments for high or low scores currently vary from system to system. In Rongcheng, everyone starts with 1,000 points, which then increases or decreases depending on the behavior of the person concerned. The highest rating is AAA, which is at least 1,050 points; at the other end of the scale is D, which is fewer than 600 points. Persons with at least an A rating are on a red list, while those below are on a blacklist. Those on the red list are given preferential treatment for admissions to schools, for social benefits, or even when purchasing insurance. Those in the C Group are checked regularly and are subject to certain restrictions. This could, for example, result in the reduction of welfare payments. Those who appear in the lowest D Group no longer qualify for management positions, lose certain benefits and lose their creditworthiness. Another important aspect is the public emphasis on ethical role models or the condemnation of those who “betray trust”. Usually, names, photos, identity numbers, and in some cases even private addresses are published. The majority will hardly be bothered by this at the moment because about 90% of the inhabitants in Rongcheng have an A (Simina Mistreanu, “China Is Implementing a Massive Plan to Rank Its Citizens, and Many of Them Want In“, Foreign Policy, 03.04.2018).

At Alibaba, a score of over 600 leads to the possibility of taking out a small loan of around 5,000 yuan (around $700) when making purchases in its online shop. For scores 650 and higher, one no longer needs a deposit to rent a car, and you might enjoy the benefits of VIP treatment at certain hotels and airports. From 700 points, additional documents can be dispensed with on a trip to Shanghai, and for a person with at least 750 points, the procedure for applying for a Schengen visa is faster on the Chinese side. Currently, Sesame Credit does not yet seem to be imposing penalties (Rachel Botsman, “Big Data Meets Big Brother as China Moves to Rate Its Citizens“, Wired, 21.10.2017).

I’m being punished for issuing a credit guarantee for someone else. The loan wasn’t repaid and I was punished. When I wanted to buy a plane ticket, I couldn’t get one. As a result, I found out that I can no longer buy tickets. That was in November 2016. I can’t buy plane tickets or express train tickets. — cited in Axel Dorloff, “Sozialkredit-System: China auf dem Weg in die IT-Diktatur“, Deutschlandfunk, 09.09.2017.

The wide range of rewards should not deceive readers about the immense risks of this system. A totalitarian surveillance system is currently being established in China, which, depending on political needs, could quickly turn China into a huge prison. People on blacklists and with travel restrictions report that it is very difficult to be removed from these lists (also read Simina Mistreanu, “China Is Implementing a Massive Plan to Rank Its Citizens, and Many of Them Want In“).

However, the impact may not be limited to China. Even if a politically flavored social credit system is rather unlikely in democratic states, this does not mean that companies operating in democratic states do not want to adopt such a business model. Although China is the salient example of such a system, similar approaches can be seen elsewhere in the world. Companies have been assessing individual creditworthiness for a long time. For example: are you wondering why you can no longer get an Uber? Well, chances are you have a dismal passenger rating. By the way, Uber knows who among their customers has had a one-night-stand (Bradley Voytek, “Rides of Glory“, Uber Blog, 12.03.2012). The Danish company Deemly demonstrates how a “light” social credit system could also be marketed in Western countries. It evaluates the trustworthiness of individuals based on the evaluation of their activities on social platforms. In this context, the “Nosedive” episode in the “Black Mirror” series, a popular critique of technology and its social impact, seems to be right on the money. Besides, it should not be forgotten that internationally active Chinese companies such as Alibaba collect data not only from Chinese citizens but from all their customers (including geodata). With the rewards offered, customers are even voluntarily submitting their data.

More information

  • Mass Surveillance and Security on the Internet“, Offiziere.ch, February 11, 2018.
  • TorBox is an easy to use, anonymizing router based on a Raspberry Pi. TorBox creates a separate WiFi that routes the encrypted network data over the Tor network. The type of client (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile, etc.) and which operating system is installed on the client don’t matter.
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US-Japan Military Relations Endure As Trump Wages Expanding Trade Wars

by Kimberly Westenhiser

Soldiers from the 2-2 Stryker Brigade along with Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, pose together after a sniper competition during Exercise

Soldiers from the 2-2 Stryker Brigade along with Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self Defense Force, pose together after a sniper competition during Exercise “Rising Thunder 18”, at the Yakima Training Center, Washington, Sept. 4 (Photo: Staff Sgt. Frances Ariele Tejada).

US-Japan military relations could be bolstered as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks to amend Japan’s constitution. A revision would include the explicit mention of Japan’s military, whose existence and role has been controversial since its founding in 1954. Through the duration of his career, Abe has sought to increase militarization in Japan. This comes amidst hostile trade rhetoric from President Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, military relations between Tokyo and Washington remain strong. This September members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force and US Army went to the Yakima Training Center in Eastern Washington State for Exercise “Rising Thunder”. The annual exercise is a part of Pacific Pathways Program, which contains a number of other combined arms exercises with other US allies in the Indo-Pacific Region.

The Pacific Pathways Program is designed to increase partnership in the event of a conflict in the region. Cooperation and preparedness were points of focus during the exercise. Soldiers taking part in the exercise told me the only difficulty was the language barrier. This was leavened by thorough communication between the two, prior to and during the exercise. “Both being infantry, we actually both have a lot of the same practices and tactics,” said Capt. Randolph Rotte, a company commander with the US Army 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Stryker Brigade. “There are some slight differences with the language barrier and the different ways we do things, but as far as overall it’s been surprising that we operate similarly.”

A member of Japanese Ground Self Defense Force looks down at one of the urban assault courses at the Yakima Training Center in eastern Washington State, United States.

A member of Japanese Ground Self Defense Force looks down at one of the urban assault courses at the Yakima Training Center in eastern Washington State, United States.

The camaraderie between the Japanese and American troops was awkwardly juxtaposed to US-President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric concerning US-Japan trade relations and awkward engagement with Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. Citing the need for Japan to reimburse the US, Trump has continually attempted to apply pressure on Tokyo by threatening tariffs and potentially cutting military support.

Japan and the US have maintained strong military relations for nearly 70 years. The United States recognized Japan as a sovereign nation in 1952, with the ratification of the US-Japan Security Treaty. This granted the US the right to locate military forces on the islands, effectively placing Japan under the US military umbrella. The treaty’s successor, the Treaty for Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States of America, went into effect eight years later, in 1960.

This treaty offered a continuation of US military support and allowed for basing facilities within Japanese territory. It also stated that the Japanese government would be consulted prior to the US becoming involved in any armed conflict on behalf of Japan. This came with a 10-year term renewal, and today there are approximately 50,000 US military personnel stationed there. Both then and now, Japanese and American officials have regarded the presence of US forces in Japan as vital to maintaining security in the Asia-Pacific region.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Western Washington State has often had a focus on the Asia-Pacific due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Training activities there and at the Yakima Training Center regularly involves allies from the Indo-Pacific Region. This has been especially so during the ramping up of North Korea’s aggression toward the United States and China’s dispute with Japan over territorial claims.

Pacific Pathways has explicitly focused on pairing US soldiers from the Pacific region with soldiers from nations who have a strategic position on the Pacific Ocean. In the past, training exercises have involved units from Singapore, India, Canada, and others. These exercises are frequently hosted at both the Yakima Training Center and JBLM.

A Stryker unit prepares to engage in a blank-fire combined arms rehearsal with the JGSDF.

A Stryker unit prepares to engage in a blank-fire combined arms rehearsal with the JGSDF.

Troops from Japan and Canada are sometimes assigned to American units at JBLM for long-term assignments. During the two-week training exercise, the members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and 2-2 Stryker Brigade joined the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) in Seattle for a luncheon. Annually, the NVC participates in “Rising Thunder” to commemorate the history of US-Japan relations and the path to becoming allies. Members of the association were invited to watch a sniper competition between the two armies.

The theme of similarities was likewise voiced during this competition, as snipers on both sides were able to compare methods and conduct. “It’s been a great experience learning with our Japanese counterparts,” said Cpl. Thomas Kyttle from the 2-2 Stryker Brigade’s 17th Infantry Regiment. “We’re both eager to learn from one another, and see the similarities and differences of how we function as Snipers.”

While trade rhetoric becomes increasingly contentious, defense ties across the Pacific appear largely unhindered. With 23 US military installations in Japan, Japan remains not only a significant treaty ally but also a strategic foothold for US operations in the Indo-Pacific Region. Even more, a recent report from the Center For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) argued that Japan should be added to theFive Eyes” intelligence network, currently including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Cpl. Thomas Kyttle, from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, engages his practice target before the start of a Sniper Competition with Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force during Rising Thunder 18, at the Yakima Training Center, Washington, Sept. 4, 2018. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Frances Ariele Tejada).

Cpl. Thomas Kyttle, from the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, engages his practice target before the start of a Sniper Competition with Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force during Rising Thunder 18, at the Yakima Training Center, Washington, Sept. 4, 2018. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Frances Ariele Tejada).

Given Japan’s proximity to China and North Korea as well as having linguistic similarities to Korean and many languages spoken in China, Japan is in a prime position for the collection of intelligence in the Indo-Pacific. Though there have been concerns expressed by current members of the intel network. “We need to be able to make sure that, if we are in, this intelligence cooperation mechanism will remain secure,” says Dr. Narushige Michishita, a defense analyst teaching at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. “This is a kind of weakness because we have really a shortage of power, resources, and know-how in order to make sure that the system is secure. So, in cybersecurity, Japan is very lagging behind.”

The CSIS also suggested that an increase in joint operations would mitigate unequivocal financial responsibility on either side. Cost sharing remains a key point of cooperation as Japan has paid 75 percent of operation cost for US installations, according to former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. However, there are still hurdles to this relationship. Not all Japanese approve of Tokyo’s increasingly assertive military posture. The Japanese Government recently received criticism for the addition of an aircraft carrier to its naval fleet. This was followed by recent plans to purchase 147 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

Many are also deeply critical of America’s robust military presence. The recent election of Governor Danny Tamaki of Okinawa, the son of a US Marine and Japanese mother, who has actively advocated against a US military presence on the island, might also have an impact on the alliance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also beginning to make efforts to thaw trade relations with Beijing, representing a departure from his long-standing hostility toward China.

Few factors indicate that the progress of relations with the US should become stilted. With Japan’s strategic significance to the US and its presence in the region, there has been no suggestion that joint training exercises like “Rising Thunder” won’t continue. The US-Japan military alliance serves as a key cornerstone for relations between the two countries, and with its strength, the partnership is likely to persist.

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Afghanistan: “Die Politik weigert sich, die eigenen Fehler, insbesondere das Fehlen einer Strategie der vergangenen 16 Jahre zuzugeben …”

Ein Interview mit dem deutschen Oberstarzt a. D. Dr. Reinhard Erös. Er errichtete und betreibt mit der Hilfe afghanischer Mitarbeiter und der von ihm und seiner Frau vor 15 Jahren ins Leben gerufene Familien-Initiative “Kinderhilfe Afghanistan” zahlreiche Bildungs- und medizinische Einrichtungen in Afghanistan. Das Interview wurde von Josef König, Chefredakteur von “Kompass. Soldat in Welt und Kirche“, Zeitschrift des Katholischen Militärbischofs für die deutsche Bundeswehr, durchgeführt und in der Ausgabe Juli/August-Ausgabe 2018 veröffentlicht. Die Zweitveröffentlichung geschieht mit Erlaubnis von Josef König – vielen Dank.

Dr. Reinhard und Annette Erös beim Besuch einer der 29 Schulen in fünf afghanischen Provinzen, in denen die Oberpfälzer rund 60 000 Schülerinnen und Schüler unterrichten lassen.

Dr. Reinhard und Annette Erös beim Besuch einer der 29 Schulen in fünf afghanischen Provinzen, in denen die Oberpfälzer rund 60 000 Schülerinnen und Schüler unterrichten lassen.

König: Ihr Ziel ist es, realistische Perspektiven für eine friedliche Zukunft des Landes am Hindukusch zu bieten. Welche Erfahrungen haben Sie dabei bisher im Umgang mit afghanischen staatlichen Einrichtungen und Behörden gemacht?

Erlös: Um die Frage zu beantworten, muss ich etwas ausholen. Ich kenne Afghanistan nicht erst seit 15 Jahren. Schon 1985, während des sowjetischen Besatzungskriegs (1979–1989), habe ich mich – damals im Dienstgrad Oberfeldarzt – von der Bundeswehr unbezahlt beurlauben lassen, um in Afghanistan als Arzt zu helfen. Der Krieg hatte schon nach wenigen Jahren die medizinische Infrastruktur auf dem Land zerstört und fast alle Ärzte vertrieben. Laut einem Bericht des UNO-Menschenrechtsbeauftragten Professor Felix Ermakora lag die Ärztedichte damals bei 1:250’000 Einwohner. Unterstützt von Freunden aus dem Studium – ich hatte in den 70er Jahren in Freiburg Medizin und Politologie studiert –, gründete ich zunächst eine Hilfsorganisation und sammelte Spenden.

1985 zog ich dann mit meiner Frau und unseren vier kleinen Buben aus dem “Paradies Deutschland” nach Peshawar, in die “Vorhölle” des pakistanisch-afghanischen Grenzgebiets. Dort lebten damals ca. vier Millionen afghanische Flüchtlinge, die durch hunderte Hilfsorganisationen halbwegs gut versorgt waren. Meine Frau – sie ist Lehrerin – baute dort zunächst eine Schule auf, an der afghanische Flüchtlingskinder zusammen mit unseren eigenen Kindern unterrichtet wurden. Den Einsatz von Hilfsorganisationen in Afghanistan selbst – auch zur ärztlichen Versorgung – hatten die sowjetischen Besatzer verboten. Auf ausländische Ärzte waren sogar Kopfgelder ausgesetzt. Da ich zuvor nie im Land gewesen war, Sprache und Kultur nicht kannte, musste ich Aufbau und Einsatz der von mir geplanten medizinischen “Cross-Border-Organisation” mit Führern des afghanischen Widerstands vorbereiten und organisieren. Hierbei halfen mir die als Offizier und Arzt bei der Bundeswehr erlernten Fähigkeiten.

Eröffnung der 31. Schule in Afghanistan am 01. Dezember 2018.

Eröffnung der 31. Schule in Afghanistan am 01. Dezember 2018.

Unter dem Schutz paschtunischer Freiheitskämpfer überquerte ich in den Folgejahren regelmäßig zu Fuß und bei Nacht die 4’000 Meter hohen Berge des Hindukusch, arbeitete tagsüber versteckt in zerbombten Dörfern und Höhlen und versorgte mit primitivsten Mitteln vor allem Frauen, Kinder und alte Menschen der paschtunischen Bergdörfer; immer unter dem Damoklesschwert der sowjetischen Luftwaffe. Ein Großteil meiner afghanischen Begleiter kam in diesen Jahren ums Leben. Ich erlernte die Landessprache Paschtu, habe die uns Europäern fremdartige Kultur zu verstehen und zu verinnerlichen versucht, und konnte so als einer der nur Handvoll ausländischen Ärzte das Vertrauen der Paschtunen gewinnen. Dieses Vertrauen hält bis heute an und ist ein entscheidendes Pfand beim Umgang mit afghanischen Offiziellen und beim Erfolg meiner jetzigen Arbeit in einer archaischen Welt.

Ende 1990 kehrte ich wieder nach Deutschland und zur Bundeswehr zurück. Von 1991 bis 1993 durfte ich, auch wegen meiner Erfahrungen in Afghanistan, als Kommandeur des Sanitätslehrbataillons die ersten außereuropäischen Auslandseinsätze im Iran und in Kambodscha führen. Als Dozent an der Führungsakademie 1996–1999 unterrichtete ich die angehenden Generalstabsoffiziere mit meinen Auslandserfahrungen sehr praxisnah in der Thematik “Interkulturelle Kompetenz als wesentliche Führungseigenschaft bei Auslandseinsätzen” und “Präven tion Posttraumatischer Belastungsstörungen beim Einsatz in fremden Kulturen“.

Ende 2003, zwei Jahre nach Beginn des von US-Präsident George W. Bush verkündeten “War on Terror” und der Erklärung des Bundeskanzlers Gerhard Schröder einer “uneingeschränkten Solidarität“, habe ich mich von der Bundeswehr vorzeitig pensionieren lassen, um in Afghanistan meinen “eigenen Krieg” zu führen. Einen “Krieg” an der Bildungsfront für die Kinder dieses geschundenen Landes. Dabei kommen mir meine Kontakte aus den 80er Jahren natürlich zu Gute. Seit 2003 habe ich im Paschtunen-Gebiet, in den ehemaligen Taliban-Hochburgen der Ostprovinzen, 30 Schulen für ca. 60’000 Buben und Mädchen, Computer-Ausbildungszentren, Berufsschulen für Solartechniker und Schneiderinnen, eine Universität und Mutter-Kind-Kliniken gebaut und eingerichtet. In diesen Einrichtungen finden mehr als 2’500 Afghanen und Afghaninnen Brot und Arbeit. Alle unsere Einrichtungen wurden und werden in enger Absprache und in Augenhöhe mit den Dorf- und Stammesältesten geplant, organisiert und betrieben. Ich gelte dort nicht als der “reiche Onkel” aus dem Westen, der von oben herab den “dummen” Afghanen mit Geld unsere westlichen Werte vermitteln will. Die afghanische Kultur ist Jahrtausende älter als die deutsche.

Auf sogenannten “militärischen Schutz” verzichten wir, denn diesen gibt es nicht. Unsere Sicherheit wird gewährleistet durch das Vertrauen, welches wir den Afghanen gegenüber zeigen und das wir von der Bevölkerung erfahren. Ein Vertrauen auf Gegenseitigkeit. Anders als bei den meisten Hilfsorganisationen werden unsere Projekte ausschließlich durch private Spenden, ohne öffentliche Mittel, finanziert. Die Afghanen wissen, wie mühsam ich bei inzwischen mehr als 3’000 Vorträgen und Veranstaltungen in ganz Europa Spenden akquiriere, und dass unsere Projekte z.B. von Schulklassen, Studentengruppen, Kirchengemeinden, sozialen Clubs und einfachen Leuten finanziert werden. Dies ist einer personenbezogenen Kultur wie die der Paschtunen von entscheidender Bedeutung. Ein strikter Verzicht auf Bakschisch und Korruption, persönlicher Einsatz, Sprachkenntnis und kulturadäquates Verhalten sind die entscheidenden Gründe, weshalb bislang keines unserer Projekte durch die Aufständischen bedroht oder gar zerstört wurde. Keiner unserer afghanischen Mitarbeiter kam durch die Taliban zu Schaden. “Mit Geld kannst du jeden Afghanen zwar bestechen, aber nie sein Vertrauen gewinnen”, lautet ein afghanisches Sprichwort.

König: Welche Rolle spielten und spielen Ihrer Meinung nach Wahlen in Afghanistan?

Erlös: In einer “Ranking-Liste” der für die Afghanen wesentlichen Probleme und Nöte rangiert die Bedeutung politischer Wahlen weit hinten. In Abwandlung des Wortes von Bertolt Brecht “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral” müssen Mütter und Väter täglich um das Überleben ihrer Kinder kämpfen. 40 Prozent aller Kleinkinder sind unterernährt. Zwei Drittel der Familien haben keinen Zugang zu sauberem Wasser, 60 Prozent haben aus finanziellen Gründen keinen Zugang zu ärztlicher Versorgung. Ein Großteil der Jugendlichen findet keine Arbeit. Das Durchschnittseinkommen der Väter – falls sie überhaupt Arbeit haben – liegt bei 3 Euro pro Tag.

Nach den Erfahrungen der letzten Wahlen gilt im Land der traurige Satz: “Wie gewählt wird, ist nicht wichtig. Entscheidend ist, wie ausgezählt wird.” Wahlbetrug, falsche Wahlversprechen und politische Korruption haben seit den Nationalwahlen 2005 die Masse der Afghanen zutiefst enttäuscht. Diese Enttäuschung bestimmt auch die zukünftigen Wahlen. Unsere westlichen Vorstellungen von kompetenten, uneigennützigen, dem Wohl des Landes verpflichteten Kandidaten (Parteien können nicht gewählt werden), sind vielleicht für die Intellektuellen in Kabul, vor allem aber für die wohlhabenden Afghanen und westliche Beobachter (!) von Bedeutung. Bei den über 70 Prozent Analphabeten im Land ist entscheidend, wer in ihren Gemeinden – zwei Drittel der Afghanen leben in Dörfern und Gemeinden – den Malik (Bürger- meister) stellt. Dieser muss in der Lage sein, mit persönlicher Autorität und den Machtmitteln Geld und Sicherheit die Probleme, Bedürfnisse und Nöte der Bewohner zu lösen. Den staatlichen Sicherheitskräften misstraut man zu Recht; die Polizei gilt als in weiten Teilen korrupt, die Armee erweist sich als unfähig. Sicherheit muss lokal und regional gewährleistet werden.

Die für die Bevölkerungsmehrheit entscheidenden Machtträger, die Bürgermeister in den 329 Distrikten, werden in Direktwahlen von der Shura, der männlichen Dorfgemeinschaft, nach oft tagelangen Diskussionen bestimmt. “Afghanistan ist groß und Kabul ist weit”, lautet ein weiteres typisch afghanisches Sprichwort. Wer bei den nächsten Nationalwahlen – falls diese überhaupt stattfinden – im Parlament sitzt oder Präsident wird, hat für die Mehrheit der Bevölkerung wenig bis gar keine Bedeutung. Die Sätze “Die in den Parlamenten und der Regierung in Kabul wollen sich nur bereichern, unsere Probleme interessieren dort doch niemanden. Und der Westen unterstützt und finanziert auch noch diese Verbrecher.”, höre ich regelmäßig bei meinen Besuchen im Land.

König: Noch einmal nachgefragt: Sind der Ausgang und das Ergebnis der diesjährigen Wahlen [Anmerkung offiziere.ch: fanden am 20./21.10.2018 statt] wichtig für Ihre vielfältigen Initiativen im Land?

Erlös: Nein. Wir werden unabhängig vom Ergebnis unsere bislang erfolgreiche Arbeit in enger Absprache mit den regionalen und religiösen Autoritäten fortsetzen. Für eine positive Entwicklung des Landes gilt: “Bildung, Ausbildung und fair bezahlte Jobs für möglichst Viele“. Vor 100 Jahren hat der deutsche Sozialdemokrat Karl Liebknecht den Satz formu- liert: “Wer die Jugend hat, dem gehört die Zukunft.” Für das Afghanistan von heute trifft dieser Satz in besonderer Weise zu: “Nur eine gebildete Jugend garantiert eine gute Zukunft.”

König: Irgendwie, so scheint es, ist die Situation in Afghanistan seit dem Ende des ISAF-Einsatzes aus dem Blickfeld geraten. Ein großes öffentliches Interesse kann nicht mehr so recht registriert werden – außer es finden Selbstmordanschläge in Kabul oder anderswo statt. Wie kommt es Ihrer Meinung nach zu diesem Desinteresse – wohl nicht nur in Deutschland?

Erlös: Der Analyse stimme ich zu. Die Frage sollten Sie aber unseren Politikern und Medien stellen. Die Politik weigert sich, die eigenen Fehler – insbesondere das Fehlen einer Strategie in den vergangenen 16 Jahren – zuzugeben, und die Presse stürzt sich fast ausschließlich auf das Thema Anschläge der Taliban. 2017 kamen bei deren Anschlägen 605 Zivilisten ums Leben, 1’620 wurden verletzt. Kaum berichtet wird in unseren Medien dagegen, dass sich im selben Jahr die US-geführten Luftangriffe auf 4’361 gesteigert haben, bei denen mindestens 295 Zivilisten, meist Kinder und Frauen, getötet und mehr als 600 schwer verletzt wurden. Eine saubere Analyse der Fehler und Versäumnisse – in der NATO spricht man von “Lessons Learned” – haben bislang nur die USA mit dem “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” (SIGAR) und Norwegen erarbeitet und vorgelegt. In Deutschland, wo jedes Jahr der Bundes- und die Landesrechnungshöfe zwar ausführlich die Mängel im Inland veröffentlichen, fehlt bis heute ein Erfahrungsbericht zu Erfolg und Misserfolg des deutschen zivilen und militärischen Engagements am Hindukusch. Die mehr als 200’000 afghanischen Flüchtlinge seit 2014 allein in Deutschland sollten ausreichend Grund und Anlass sein, diesen Missstand endlich zu beenden.

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Was NATO’s eastward expansion a broken promise?

Dieser Artikel ist auch in Deutsch verfügbar.

[The West] have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed us before an accomplished fact. This happened with NATO’s expansion to the East, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. — Vladimir Putin.

It is not just Russian President Vladimir Putin who has accused the western NATO members of having deceived Russia about their plans for NATO’s eastward expansion. In discussions of the strained relationship between Russia and NATO often turns to how NATO’s eastward expansion in 1999 and 2004 broke a promise made to the Soviet Union in the negotiations that led to of German reunification (for example: Nick Ottens, “Russia’s Crimea invasion Follows Decades of Perceived Humiliation“, Offiziere.ch, May 03, 2014). Judging whether NATO’s extension beyond its 1991 borders represents a broken promise or agreement is a fundamental moral assessment of the defense alliance. This is all the more important because, in 1999, NATO defied international law with Operation “Allied Force” and began bombing Serbian territory (still a part of the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia at the time) without the consent of the UN Security Council. Critics of NATO readily saw this operation and that year’s initial eastward expansion of NATO as a power grab on the offense, sufficient grounds for Russia to perceive a threat from the Western defense alliance.

Offiziere.ch already addressed this issue with a 2015 post that was completely rewritten taking into account newly declassified documents at the end of 2017. The question remains, however: Could Russia assume on the basis of Western assurances that NATO would not extend its sphere of influence further east? To what extent was NATO’s eastward expansion a broken promise or even a breach of an agreement?

In answering these questions, a distinction must be made between two different sets of negotiations which ultimately affected one another: the negotiations on German reunification and those on a new European security structure, addressed in Chapters 1 and 2, respectively. Chapter 3 takes up the events in 1999 when the actual breach of trust between Russia and the NATO members occurred which would be so decisive for the subsequent relationship between NATO and Russia.

1 – The negotiations on German reunification

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the inner-German border in autumn 1989, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was asking itself whether its continued existence was justified. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl took advantage of the opportunity and sought the fastest possible path to reunification. He had already indicated such plans to U.S. President George H. W. Bush on November 17, 1989.

At the political level, German reunification was first discussed in Kohl’s Ten-Point Plan on November 28, 1989. Since only a handful of politicians were informed about the project, he surprised both international and German politicians with the proposed gradual approach to unifying Germany and Europe. Although the ten points include a further evolution of the important process for European security that took place in the 1970s during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), far-reaching and rapid steps towards disarmament and arms control, the ten points did not address whether a reunited Germany would participate in alliances (Markus Lingen, “Kalender: 28.11.1989, Geschichte der CDU, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung“).

WAIDHAUS, GERMANY - DECEMBER 23: Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier symbolic cut the barb wire fence at the border of Germany and Czech Republic on December 23, 1989, in Waidhaus, Germany. The year 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)***Local Caption*** Hans-Dietrich Genscher; Jiri Dienstbier

Federal Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier symbolic cut the barb wire fence at the border of Germany and the Czech Republic on December 23, 1989, in Waidhaus, Germany.

This question was first addressed by German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the end of January 1990 in a speech at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing. Genscher proposed a reunited Germany within NATO, however, without extending its military infrastructure to the territory of the GDR. He argued that the reunification of Germany would not lead to any impairment of Soviet security interests. For this reason, NATO should refrain from expanding eastwards towards the Soviet border. Genscher saw the basis for the future European security architecture in a cooperative partnership between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which would concentrate more on a political role (U.S. Departement of State, “U.S. Embassy Bonn Confidential Cable to Secretary of State on the Speech of the German Foreign Minister: Genscher Outlines His Vision of a New European Architecture“, The National Security Archive, February 01, 1990).

Click on the text excerpt to read the whole document.

Click on the text excerpt to read the whole document.

The “Tutzing formula” formed the basis for the initial round of negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the beginning of February 1990. Baker made assurances three times that NATO would “not move an inch towards the east” and that NATO expansion would also be unacceptable for the United States (“Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow. (Excerpts)“, The National Security Archive, February 09, 1990). Afterward, Baker jotted down the following note: “End result: Unified Ger. anchored in a changed (polit.) NATO — whose juris. would not move eastward!” (Mary Elise Sarotte, “A Broken Promise?“, Foreign Affairs, August 11, 2014).

• • •

Baker: I want to ask you a question, and you need not answer it right now. Supposing unification takes place, what would you prefer: a united Germany outside of NATO, absolutely independent and without American troops; or a united Germany keeping its connections with NATO, but with the guarantee that NATO’s jurisprudence or troops will not spread east of the present boundary?
Gorbachev: We will think everything over. We intend to discuss all these questions in depth at the leadership level. It goes without saying that a broadening of the NATO zone is not acceptable.
Baker: We agree with that.

Quelle: “Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow. (Excerpts)“, The National Security Archive, February 09, 1990).

• • •

It was only after the “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” issued at the end of the NATO summit in early July 1990 that the Soviet Union came back to the table for continued negotiations on German reunification. This declaration provided for an increased emphasis on the political aspects of NATO and a strengthening of the CSCE. Following a bilateral meeting between Kohl and Gorbachev in July 1990 and an emotional telephone conversation in September, Kohl convinced Gorbachev (or “bought him off”, as some would claim, for 15 billion marks) to let a reunited Germany belong to NATO. At the end of the negotiations, the agreed terms were formally laid down in the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany“, which was signed in Moscow on September 12, 1990. Article 5 of the treaty sets out the following points:

  • until the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from the former GDR, only personnel in the Bundeswehr that were not part of NATO could be deployed to the territory of the former GDR;
  • the force strength and quantity of equipment belonging to US, British, and French troops stationed in Berlin could not be increased;
  • after the Soviet withdrawal, German forces assigned to NATO could be station on the territory of the former GDR, but no foreign forces or nuclear weapons.

Future membership in the NATO alliance was a key negotiating point in the reunification of Germany. Verbal assurances that NATO would not expand eastwards and the “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” were decisive factors in overturning Gorbachev’s initial reservations about allowing a reunified Germany to join NATO. The Western assurances must, however, be judged in the context of that time, when the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact was not yet foreseeable and reunited Germany’s border with Poland bordered directly with a member state of the Warsaw Pact (Mark Kramer, “The Myth of a No-NATO-Enlargement Pledge to Russia“, The Washington Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 2, April 2009, p. 39–61). Baker’s promise of “not one inch eastward” referred to the territory of the former GDR, no more and no less, was subsequently also formally stipulated in the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1990 in Bonn. (Photo: Schambeck).

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1990 in Bonn. (Photo: Schambeck).

2 – Negotiations on a new European security structure

The Western side repeatedly stressed to Gorbachev that the US and NATO would take the interests of the Soviet Union into account. For example, at the Malta Summit at the beginning of December 1989, US President Bush verbally assured Gorbachev that the US would not take advantage of the upheavals in Eastern Europe to the detriment of the Soviet Union (Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton, “NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev Heard“, National Security Archive, December 12, 2017). In February 1990, Genscher discussed with British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd the possibility of an eastward expansion of NATO into the territory of the Central and Eastern European states as part of the negotiations on German reunification. He argued that the Soviet Union would need guarantees that the Polish government, for example, would not one day leave the Warsaw Pact and join NATO the next day (“Mr. Hurd to Sir C. Mallaby (Bonn). Telegraphic N. 85: Secretary of State’s Call on Herr Genscher: German Unification“, The National Security Archive, February 06, 1990). Genscher also told Baker that NATO should not be extended to the territory of the former GDR or anywhere else in Central and Eastern Europe. Baker agreed with this view (Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson, “Deal or No Deal?: The End of the Cold War and the U.S. Offer to Limit NATO Expansion”, International Security, vol. 40, no. 4, May 10, 2016, p. 22). Later, in April 1990, Hurd also assured Gorbachev that Britain would take no action that would undermine Soviet interests and dignity. At this meeting, Gorbachev expressed his idea of a European security structure covering the territory from the Atlantic to the Urals (“Sir R. Braithwaite (Moscow). Telegraphic N. 667: ‘Secretary of State’s Meeting with President Gorbachev'”, The National Security Archive, April 11, 1990). A report by Baker to Bush after a meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on May 4, 1990, describes the wording of the Western heads of state towards Gorbachev as follows:

I used your speech and our recognition of the need to adapt NATO, politically and militarily, and to develop CSCE to reassure Shevardnadze that the process would not yield winners and losers. Instead, it would produce a new legitimate European structure – one that would be inclusive, not exclusive. — Stellungnahme des U.S.-Aussenminister James A. Baker an den U.S. Präsident George H. W. Bush.

In a later meeting in May 1990, Gorbachev expressed initial concerns to Baker that the US wanted to separate the Eastern European states from the Soviet Union. At the same time, he suggested that a new overarching security structure should replace both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Baker confirmed his view that the US goal was not to separate Eastern Europe from the Soviet Union. The US would be interested in creating a stable Europe in cooperation with the Soviet Union. In nine points, he promised the transformation of NATO into a political organization, the strengthening of security structures within Europe by the further development of the CSCE, the securing of a Germany not equipped with weapons of mass destruction, and the inclusion of Soviet security interests (“Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow“, p. 3f, 19, 21ff). These assurances finally led to the “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” at the NATO summit in July 1990, which made the negotiations for German reunification possible and was regarded by the Soviet side as a significant milestone for the future of the European security structure. With this declaration, Gorbachev was able to confront the hardliners in his government and argue that the US was serious about transforming the European security structure to include the Soviet Union. However, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact on July 1, 1991, and the subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union at the end of that year fundamentally changed the European security structure and created a power vacuum in Central and Eastern Europe that should not be underestimated.

US President George Bush (L) shares a joke with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (R) on December 03, 1989 on board the Soviet cruise "Maxim Gorki", ship docked at Marsaxlokk harbor, during their joint press conference at the end of their two-day first summit meeting. This summit is viewed as the official end of the Cold War. (Photo credit should read JONATHAN UTZ/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President George Bush shares a joke with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on December 03, 1989 on board the Soviet cruise "Maxim Gorki", ship docked at Marsaxlokk harbor, during their joint press conference at the end of their two-day first summit meeting (Photo: Jonathan Utz).

There is evident movement in NATO towards a transformation, with an emphasis on the political range of action. In London, a big step was taken to throw off the shackles of the past. The fact that the Soviet Union is no longer regarded as an enemy by the West is very important for the development of plans for the future. — Michail S. Gorbatschow in einem Vier-Augen-Gespräch mit Helmut Kohl am 15. Juli 1990 in Moskau.

Before the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, the U.S. State and Defense departments were against NATO expansion because others could have perceived it as an anti-Soviet coalition (“U.S. Department of State, European Bureau: Revised NATO Strategy Paper for Discussion at Sub-Ungroup Meeting“, The National Security Archive, October 22, 1990). The Bush administration followed this recommendation, which was also supported by the other NATO member states. In March 1991, British Prime Minister John Major, for example, made the assurance that NATO membership would not be an option for the Eastern European states (“Ambassador Rodric Braithwaite Diary“, The National Security Archive, March 03, 1991, p. 3). On July 1, 1991, NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner confirmed to a delegation from the Supreme Soviet in Russia that 13 of the 16 member states in the North Atlantic Council were against NATO expansion (“Memorandum to Boris Yeltsin from Russian Supreme Soviet Delegation to NATO HQs“, The National Security Archive, July 03, 1991). This position remained in place until the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991. In his so-called “Chicken Kiev” speech of August 1, 1991, Bush even spoke out against Ukraine’s independence, which later led to severe criticism from Ukrainian nationalists and conservative politicians in the US (“After the Summit; Excerpts From Bush’s Ukraine Speech: Working ‘for the Good of Both of us’“, The New York Times, 02.08.1991). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, however, the tone in the US changed abruptly, especially since Bush was running for reelection in 1992 (which he did not manage). In his “State of the Union” speech in January 1992, Bush said: “By the grace of God, America won the cold war. […] A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America.”

Now the West has no argument to say no to Poland. Until now the West has been using the argument, ‘We don’t want to upset the Russians.’ Now we will see the true intentions of the West toward Poland. — Andrzej Drzycimski, Sprecher des polnischen Präsidenten Lech Walesa nach der Rede von Boris Jelzin im August 1993 in Warschau zitiert in Jane Perlez, “Yeltsin ‘Understands’ Polish Bid for a Role in NATO“, The New York Times, 26.08.1993).

Ironically, it was Russian President Boris Yeltsin who put the possibility of an eastward expansion of NATO up for discussion. In a speech in Warsaw in August 1993 and later in Prague, he assured the public, based on the Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE, that each state could decide whether to join an alliance. Yeltsin’s speech was the green light for Poland to request NATO membership (“Your October 6 Lunch Meeting with Secretary Aspin and Mr. Lake“, The National Security Archive, October 05, 1993, p. 4). Yeltsin soon retreated from this position under domestic pressure (Strobe Talbott, “The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy“, Random House, 2003, p. 95ff). In a letter to new U.S. President Bill Clinton in mid-September 1993, he recalled that, based on the talks leading to the reunification of Germany, eastward expansion of NATO was out of the question. He clarified that what he intended to say was a new European security structure in which Russia would be integrated for the collective prevention and resolution of crises. This goal could also be achieved on the basis of a transformed NATO, with NATO’s relationship with Russia being given a more privileged status than that of the Eastern European states (“Retranslation of Yeltsin Letter on NATO Expansion“, The National Security Archive, 09.10.1993).

On the U.S. side, Yeltsin’s letter led to the idea of the “Partnership for Peace” (PfP), which was first presented to Yeltsin on October 22, 1993, by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Yeltsin was assured that the PfP would cover all European states, including Russia. However, Christopher also mentioned in his conversation that the PfP would serve as a basis for long-term NATO membership – “PFP [sic!] today, enlargement tomorrow”. However, Yeltsin and his advisers failed to hear this part of the message (“Secretary Christopher’s Meeting with President Yeltsin, 10/22/93, Moscow“, The National Security Archive, October 25, 1993). Rather, they saw the PfP as a successor to NATO (Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton, “NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard“, National Security Archive, March 16, 2018). In a direct conversation in January 1994, Clinton informed Yeltsin that the US did not want to speed up NATO’s eastward expansion, but that Russia had no veto rights on this issue.

In response to a NATO study initiated by U.S. Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke on the “how and why” of new member states, Yeltsin reiterated in a letter to Clinton his hope that the CSCE would be expanded into a fully-fledged European security organization (“Official Informal No. 248 ‘Boris-Bill Letter’“, The National Security Archive, 06.12.1994). Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev refused to sign the PfP in December 1994, when he was annoyed by Holbrooke’s insistence. Yeltsin also surprised Clinton at the CSCE summit in Budapest with the question of why NATO member states viewed Russia with suspicion. Clinton then clarified once again that no country outside NATO would have a veto right in any membership applications (Elaine Sciolino, “Yeltsin Says Nato Is Trying to Split Continent Again“, The New York Times, December 06, 1994). At a meeting with Yeltsin in May 1995, Clinton stressed that Yeltsin could not prevent the Central and Eastern European countries from joining NATO, although the timing of their accession could be influenced. Yeltsin then seemed increasingly willing to accept NATO’s eastward expansion if it took place after Russian parliamentary and presidential elections in 1996 to avoid any negative domestic influence on his political future (“Summary Report on One-on-One Meeting between Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin, May 10, 1995, Kremlin“, The National Security Archive, May 10, 1995).

Domestically, however, the situation in Russia was different. Not surprisingly, the Russian military saw NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat (thus stated the Russian military doctrine of November 1993). There was also increasing opposition in the Duma: in a closed hearing in April 1995, concerns were expressed that the US wanted to exploit the power gap with Russia to such an extent that Russia would retain the status of a junior partner on a permanent basis. NATO’s eastward enlargement was seen as a threat to Russia’s national security interests and the security of Europe. Ignoring Russian interests were perceived as isolating Russia from the rest of Europe (Vladimir Lukin, “Information Memorandum on the Results of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Subject: ‘Russian-American Relations’“, Committee of Foreign Affairs, April 25, 1995).

It is true that the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany” referred only to the reunification of Germany, and that otherwise there was no written assurance that NATO would not expand to Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, the informal and formal talks and the negotiations on a new European security structure which continued after the reunification of Germany could not simply be ignored. At the end of his term as Soviet President, Gorbachev was credibly assured that NATO would not expand into the territory of the Central and Eastern European states. At the same time, however, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union did fundamentally change the European security structure. Neither Russia nor any other European security organization could fill the resulting power vacuum alongside NATO. To the contrary: with all the political and economic turbulence in Russia, there was no guarantee of a stable future in Eastern Europe. Indeed, it was not primarily NATO, but the Central and Eastern European states that wanted to join NATO at all costs for the sake of their security. Unlike with Gorbachev, it was made clear to Yeltsin from the beginning that NATO membership for the Central and Eastern European states was unavoidable. After all, it was Yeltsin himself who had set the ball rolling with his speeches in Warsaw and Prague and his support for the Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE.

3 – The breach of trust in 1999

NATO's operation "Allied Force" in 1999 was not authorized by the UN Security Council.

NATO’s operation “Allied Force” in 1999 was not authorized by the UN Security Council.

As agreed between Clinton and Yeltsin, the announcement of an eastward expansion of NATO was postponed until after the end of the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections. Since it was not possible for Russia to prevent NATO’s eastward enlargement due to its economic and military weakness, Russia tried to demand a voice in NATO’s decision-making processes. For that reason, the “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security” was signed with Russia before the 1997 NATO summit and a “NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council” was created. However, this did not increase Russia’s voice in NATO, as became apparent in 1999 with NATO’s operation “Allied Force”.

At the NATO summit in early June 1997, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were invited to enter negotiations with the prospect of joining NATO by 1999. This invitation did not come as a surprise to Russia, but it was still a defeat. Not only did Russia oppose NATO’s eastward enlargement, but this decision was tantamount to a rejection of the “second generation” pan-European security structure proposed by Moscow that would have included Russia and pointed to an increasing shift in the balance of power on the European continent to Russia’s disadvantage (Mike Bowker And Cameron Ross, “Russia After the Cold War“, Routledge, 2000, p. 344).

Madeleine, don’t you understand we have many Kosovos in Russia? — Russischer Aussenminister Igor Ivanov zur U.S.-amerikanischen Aussenministerin Madeleine Albright im Winter 1998 zitiert in Talbott, p. 301.

However, this was not the only US and NATO decision directed against Russia’s interests. As early as October 1998, Yeltsin made it clear to Clinton that Russia would vehemently reject the same kind of NATO intervention in the Kosovo War that had been seen in the Bosnian War. From the Russian point of view, this would be the third time after Bosnia and Iraq that the US would assert its will by force, acting as the world’s police force without involving Russian interests. In addition, the Russians saw parallels to the conflict in Chechnya, with Russia occupying a comparable position to Serbia. With veto power in the UN Security Council, Russia had the opportunity to prevent a UN resolution that would have authorized a NATO military intervention in Kosovo (Talbott, p. 300f).

On March 24, 1999, just twelve days after Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were admitted as new member states, NATO bombed targets in the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was military, culturally and religiously linked to Russia, without authorization from the UN Security Council. In addition, at its April 1999 Summit, NATO released its revised strategic concept defining that conventional NATO forces must have the capability to conduct military operations outside NATO territory (the basis of the so-called “out-of-area” operations). From the Russian perspective, NATO thus transformed itself into an offensive military security instrument of the West — a clear breach of trust after the Russians had been forced to accept NATO’s eastward expansion. It is therefore not surprising that Russia later did not believe the US/NATO missile defense shield promoted by U.S. President George W. Bush was not intended to neutralize Russia’s second strike capability.

In reaction to the bombing of targets in Serbia, violent riots took place outside the U.S. embassy in Moscow. Russia also withdrew its military representation from NATO headquarters, reduced its liaison staff at NATO, suspended all PfP activities and all working sessions of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council. However, relations with the US also deteriorated considerably, as was evident in Clinton’s and Yeltsin’s confrontation at the OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government in Istanbul in November 1999. In particular, the U.S. criticism of Russian military action during the Second Chechen War was perceived not only as unacceptable interference in Russia’s domestic affairs but also as a double standard. From a Russian perspective, the US justified its bombing of Serbia as part of NATO’s operation “Allied Force”, while denouncing the Russian use of bombers in Chechnya as disproportionate. With Yeltsin’s resignation at the end of 1999 and the election of Vladimir Putin on March 26, 2000, it also became clear that the reign of pro-Western reformers in Russia had come to an end and a stronger, independent, self-confident, and nationalist course would be adopted (Talbott, p. 306, 361ff, 367).

View from downtown Belgrade to the building of the headquarters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party, which was hit during the early morning NATO air attack on Belgrade, 21 April 1999.

View from downtown Belgrade to the building of the headquarters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s Socialist Party, which was hit during the early morning NATO air attack on Belgrade, 21 April 1999.


Neither the Soviet Union nor Russia ever reached a binding agreement under international law to preclude the admission of new NATO member states to Central and Eastern Europe. To the contrary, as Yeltsin rightly pointed out in 1993, based on the Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE, each state is free to determine its membership in an alliance. While this document is not an international treaty, it nevertheless committed the signatories to respect the sovereignty, the inviolability of frontiers, the peaceful settlement of disputes, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and a respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As an internationally recognized successor state to the Soviet Union, Russia is bound by the Helsinki Final Act signed by the Soviet Union in August 1975.

However, declassified documents clearly show that Gorbachev was repeatedly verbally assured that NATO would not expand eastwards. Both in national jurisdiction and international politics, verbal promises and agreements can also acquire legal validity. Even legally non-binding agreements are regarded as essential instruments in international politics (Michael R. Gordon, “Kerry Criticizes Republican Letter to Iranian Leaders on Nuclear Talks“, The New York Times, 21.12.2017). It must also be borne in mind that such informal arrangements were of great importance during the Cold War (Shifrinson, 17f). The promises made to Gorbachev during the negotiations on German reunification must, however, also be seen in the context of that time: with the Warsaw Pact just to the east of reunited Germany’s new border along the Oder-Neisse line, the promise referred to the territory of the GDR, not to Central and Eastern Europe. This is precisely what was formally stipulated in the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”, no more and no less.

The situation is somewhat different in the negotiations on a new European security structure. Gorbachev was verbally assured to the end that the Western states would not act against the interests of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the “London Declaration on a Transformed North Atlantic Alliance” so decisive for the Soviet Union’s choices at the time was intended to launch a new European security structure. The idea was a cooperative security structure between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, which would concentrate more on a political role in the future. However, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union deprived such a cooperative security structure of its foundation, and consequently, the promises to Gorbachev were never renewed to Yeltsin. To the contrary, Yeltsin was told from the beginning that NATO membership of the Central and Eastern European states would be unavoidable in the long term. Although the CSCE was upgraded to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 1995 despite the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, decision-making based on the general principle of consensus (every member state has a de facto veto, but unanimity is not a prerequisite for decisions) severely limits the capacity of the OSCE to act, given that it has 57 member states. Its limited decision-making capacity was visible in 2010 when, at the last OSCE summit (after an 11-year break), it was not possible to adopt a plan to renew the OSCE in the long term and increase its capacity to act.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks after inspecting a new Russian fighter jet after its test flight in Zhukovksy, outside Moscow, Thursday, June 17, 2010. The new jet, Sukhoi T-50, is Russia's response to the latest U.S. F-22 Raptor fighters. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Pool)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks after inspecting a new Russian fighter jet after its test flight in Zhukovksy, outside Moscow, Thursday, June 17, 2010.

It would be naive to ignore the fact that with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact at the beginning of July 1991 the European security structure had changed entirely and a security vacuum was created in Central and Eastern Europe. The former European member states of the Warsaw Pact wanted to join NATO out of their security concerns. The push to join came from the former Communist countries, not NATO itself. Moreover, it was Russian President Boris Yeltsin who had set the ball rolling with his speeches in Warsaw and Prague and his support for the Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE. In retrospect, Yeltsin was critical of NATO’s eastward expansion, but this was for domestic political reasons. Interestingly enough, Putin later also made few objections to the second NATO enlargement to the east (Talbott, p. 415). The politically motivated accusation that NATO broke a promise with its eastward enlargement was only voiced later, and put forward for the first time by Putin in his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 (Vladimir Putin, “Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy“, 10.02.2007, Wikisource).

However, even the US and NATO have not behaved impeccably here. Following NATO’s eastward expansion, Russian confidence in the intentions of Western states was damaged by its operation “Allied Force” and the new strategic concept. This did not change even after 1999: further rounds of enlargement (e.g., plans to accept Ukraine and Georgia as NATO member states) and the advanced US missile defense shield further undermined relations with Russia. Russia had no real voice in the negotiations with either the US or NATO. Only one thing has changed: with the election of Putin in 2000, Russia set off once again on its nationalist path, full of self-confidence.

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How the South Sudanese Civil War Is Fueling Climate Change

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He researches the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia and visited South Sudan in January 2016.

Great powers such as China and the United States may have the most sway over the direction of the environmental movement, but climate change remains no less dire a problem for the developing countries of the Global South. South Sudan knows this unfortunate fact all too well.

A Mundari man at dusk in Terekeka State, South Sudan. The country is in the midst of a civil war, and climate change is further disrupting livelihoods and fueling the conflict. (Photo:  Bruno Feder).

A Mundari man at dusk in Terekeka State, South Sudan. The country is in the midst of a civil war, and climate change is further disrupting livelihoods and fueling the conflict. (Photo: Bruno Feder).

South Sudan sits at the intersection of ecological and humanitarian crises. The South Sudanese Civil War has raged under the international community’s radar for five years, obscured by better-known conflicts — among them the Libyan and Yemeni Civil Wars. Attempts at peace talks have failed to bring an end to a conflict characterized by brutality and sectarianism. Most South Sudanese politicians and foreign diplomats, meanwhile, have struggled to find time to deal with environmental issues in a developing country that has faced a variety of more violent challenges since it became independent in 2011.

While the news media has spent little time dwelling on the effects of global warming on South Sudan, intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have begun sounding the alarm in a bid to mobilize the international community to action there. “The man-made crisis in South Sudan has pushed the country back on multiple fronts, hampering agricultural production, disrupting livelihoods and the coping abilities of communities”, wrote Biplove Choudhary, UNDP Team Leader of Human Development and Inclusive Growth in South Sudan, and Jean-Luc Stalon, UNDP Deputy Country Director for South Sudan. “These are but few of several compelling reasons as to why climate change risks in South Sudan should be a pressing worry at this point in time for the policy makers and international partners”.

Choudhary and Stalon noted that the South Sudanese Civil War had exacerbated environmental issues already present in the world’s youngest nation-state, including deforestation and drought. The pair also observed a discouraging example of irony: the East African country has barely contributed to global warming, yet South Sudan remains among the countries with the most to lose from climate change.

The conflict in the South Sudanese countryside has precluded South Sudanese from pursuing many forms of employment, forcing them to look to ad-hoc industries that take a heavy toll on the natural environment, such as illegal logging. This development in turn leads to deforestation, accelerating global warming in South Sudan to what the UNDP has recorded as 2.5 times the rate in the rest of the world. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) found that South Sudan will lose all its forest cover in sixty years if this trend continues, pointing to a future where the country remains at climate change’s mercy (“War-Torn South Sudan at Grave Risk on Climate Change“, VOA, 18.07.2017).

A fire burns at Mundari cattle camp in Terekeka State, South Sudan. (Photo:  Bruno Feder).

A fire burns at Mundari cattle camp in Terekeka State, South Sudan. (Photo: Bruno Feder).

The UNEP has estimated that “droughts, floods, pollution, and conflicts” tied to global warming could come to affect as many as 90 percent of South Sudanese, a startling statistic. The UNEP has grown so concerned that it has even started addressing South Sudan’s environmental issues on Twitter (see below). “The state of ongoing strife in South Sudan is the major impediment to good governance that would ensure the productive use of its natural resources and the protection of its environmental assets,” the UNEP concluded in a 2018 “state of the environment and outlook report“. “Indeed, the lack of strong, effective institutions for peacefully managing competing claims to local power and control, and ownership of livestock and natural resources is an important factor in the ongoing conflict”.

The World Food Programme (WFP), another UN agency involved in South Sudan, has gone as far as labeling the War in Darfur, which neighbors South Sudan, “the first climate change conflict”. The WFP warned that the South Sudanese Civil War had much in common with its Darfuri counterpart.

Foreign news agencies have reported that the South Sudanese Civil War has even prevented South Sudanese meteorologists from documenting weather in the region, limiting the ability of South Sudanese farmers to plan around climate change, which has caused damaging droughts in South Sudan. However daunting these warning signs, the UN has shown that timely action by South Sudanese and their allies in the international community can mitigate the worst effects of climate change. In the 2014 report “Climate Risk and Food Security in South Sudan: Analysis of Climate Impacts on Food Security and Livelihoods“, the WFP assessed that “adaptation to drought through water management strategies, supported by introduction of drought-tolerant crops and crop varieties can play a critical role in reducing the vulnerability of at-risk populations”, adding that “adaptation options should also consider a range of uncertainties associated with climate variability and the timescales of climate impacts”.

For its part, the UNEP oversees a well-developed environmental organization in South Sudan, having first established a footprint there in 2009 and organizing a campaign dubbed “Keep Juba Clean, Keep Juba Green” in 2010, a year before South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan. The UNEP launched a follow-up campaign in celebration of the country’s nationhood in 2015.

The UNDP has remained active in South Sudan for even longer, offering it assistance since the bloodiest phase of the Second Sudanese Civil War thirty years ago. The UNDP’s, UNEP’s, and WFP’s history and infrastructure will prove crucial in helping South Sudan overcome global warming. Though these UN agencies appear well equipped to tackle South Sudan’s environmental issues, only the leaders of the international community wield the diplomatic resources to bring an end to the East African country’s persistent civil war, an outgrowth of South Sudan’s war of independence from Sudan. China, India, the U.S., and other countries with ties to the government in Juba can use their influence to compel the South Sudanese factions to come to the negotiating table, a critical prerequisite for nationwide action on climate change in South Sudan. Ignoring the conflict will only ensure that it worsens.

If the UN and the great powers succeed in ending the South Sudanese Civil War and organizing a response to global warming in South Sudan, environmentalists in Libya, Syria, and Yemen can reapply that model to their own countries’ civil wars in coordination with the international community. Otherwise, conflict and climate change will continue to work hand in hand in the Global South.

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Die Schweiz, die NATO und Geschlechtergleichstellung – wo bitte ist hier der Link?

von Anna-Lena Schluchter. Frau Schluchter arbeitet als Projektbeauftragte in der Abteilung “Gender and Security” beim Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) in Genf. Sie hat Politikwissenschaften, Geschichte und Internationale Beziehungen an der Universität Zürich und am Hochschulinstitut für internationale Studien und Entwicklung (IHEID) in Genf studiert. Ich danke der Autorin für die Erlaubnis einer Zweitveröffentlichung des ursprünglich bei “foraus” publizierten Artikels.

Das Schweizer Volk will nichts von einem NATO-Beitritt wissen, trotzdem kooperiert die Schweiz eng mit der NATO – nicht nur mit Kontingenten im Kosovo, sondern auch in ganz unerwarteten Bereichen.

Die Mehrheit der Schweizer Bevölkerung ist sich einig: Als neutrales Land gehört die Schweiz nicht in das nordatlantische Militärbündnis NATO. Laut der aktuellsten Sicherheitsstudie der ETH Zürich sind nur 19% der Schweizerinnen und Schweizer für einen Beitritt zum Sicherheitsbündnis (siehe Statistik oben). Trotzdem profitiert die Schweiz von der NATO, nicht zuletzt da sie durch ihre geografische Lage komfortabel in den NATO-Schutzschirm eingebettet ist, und sie kooperiert als Partnerstaat seit 1996 mit der Militärallianz. Dabei setzt die Neutralität zwar Grenzen – eine Verpflichtung zum militärischen Beistand im Kriegsfall ist ausgeschlossen – aber sie erlaubt trotzdem eine vielseitige Form der Mitwirkung. Die wohl bekannteste Zusammenarbeit mit der NATO ist sicherlich der Swisscoy-Einsatz in Kosovo, mit dem die Schweiz unter UNO-Mandat seit 1999 mithilft, die Sicherheit im Westbalkan zu gewährleisten.

Bilaterales Treffen zwischen NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg und Bundesrat Guy Parmelin, Vorsteher des Eidgenössischen Departements für Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport sowie Bundesrat Didier Burkhalter, Vorsteher des Eidgenössischen Departements für auswärtige Angelegenheiten anfangs März 2017.

Bilaterales Treffen zwischen NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg und Bundesrat Guy Parmelin, Vorsteher des Eidgenössischen Departements für Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport sowie Bundesrat Didier Burkhalter, Vorsteher des Eidgenössischen Departements für auswärtige Angelegenheiten anfangs März 2017.

Dialog – aber nicht zu viel
Weitaus weniger bekannt, sind die stilleren Engagements bei der NATO, die dafür sehr den traditionellen Arbeitsmethoden der schweizerischen Aussenpolitik entsprechen. So hat die Schweiz beispielsweise den Event “NATO Engages: The Brussels Summit Dialogue” als Partnerstaat finanziell unterstützt. Diese Veranstaltung fand parallel zum Gipfeltreffen der NATO Staats- und Regierungsschefs im Juli statt und wollte den Austausch mit der Zivilgesellschaft stimulieren. Zusammen mit einem Schweizer Regierungsvertreter durfte ich daran als sogenannte “Next Generation Delegate” teilnehmen und war zugegebenermassen etwas “starstruck” angesichts des hochkarätigen Aufgebots an Präsidenten, PremierministerInnen, AussenministerInnen und VerteidigungsministerInnen, die sich neben dem NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg und einer Vielzahl an ExpertInnen über zwei Tage mit einem jungen, diversen jedoch amerikanisch dominierten und etwas elitären Publikum austauschten. Die Gespräche waren intim, die Fragen und Antworten teils provokant. Wie das Gipfeltreffen selber war auch diese Veranstaltung von US-Präsident Donald Trumps hervorragend inszeniertem Geplänkel und einer starken Anti-Russland-Rhetorik geprägt. Austausch ja, Dialog unter Gleichgesinnten ja – aber alles hat seine Grenzen. Ein echter Dialog im Rahmen einer solchen Veranstaltung würde meiner Meinung nach eben auch den Austausch mit Russland erfordern. Was jedoch positiv auffiel, war nicht nur die fast ausgeglichene Teilnahme von Männern und Frauen im Publikum, sondern auch, dass wir keinen ausschliesslichen Männer-Experten-Runden ausgeliefert waren: Denn ja – es gibt sie tatsächlich, die Expertinnen in den Bereichen Sicherheit, Militär und Abrüstung. Dies entsprach ganz dem langjährigen Engagement der Schweiz für die Teilhabe von Frauen in der Sicherheitspolitik und Friedensförderung.

Nicht neutral gegenüber der Partizipation von Frauen in der Sicherheitspolitik
Dieses Engagement basiert auf der im Jahre 2000 verabschiedeten Resolution 1325 des UN-Sicherheitsrates und den Folgeresolutionen zu “Women, Peace and Security” (WPS), welche zum ersten Mal die Erfahrungen und Rolle der Frauen in Konflikt und Friedensförderung thematisierten. Die Resolutionen zu WPS verfplichten Staaten und andere Akteure folgende Punkte umzusetzen:

  • stärkere Partizipation von Frauen in der Prävention, Friedensförderung und Sicherheitspolitik;
  • Schutz der Rechte von Frauen und Mädchen während und nach Konflikten sowie Prävention von genderspezifischer Gewalt;
  • stärkere Gender-Perspektive in der Nothilfe, im Wiederaufbau, in der Vergangenheitsarbeit sowie in der Konfliktprävention.

Clare Hutchinson ist seit anfangs 2018 die Sonderbeauftragte zu WPS bei der NATO.

Clare Hutchinson ist seit anfangs 2018 die Sonderbeauftragte zu WPS bei der NATO.

Die NATO ist bemüht, diese Resolutionen organisationsweit umzusetzen und hat mehrere Mechanismen und Strategien dazu geschaffen (siehe auch den entsprechenden Twitter-Feed). 2012 wurde die Position der Sonderbeauftragten zu WPS kreiert, die alle Prozesse und Aktivitäten zur Umsetzung der Resolution beaufsichtigt. Die Schweiz arbeitet eng mit der Sonderbeauftragten zusammen und unterstützt die NATO in verschiedenen Bereichen, beispielsweise in Jordanien, wo sie sich im Rahmen eines NATO Projekts zur der Förderung der Frauen in der Armee beteiligt (kleiner Einschub: 0.7% aller Dienstleistenden der Schweizer Armee sind Frauen, bei Swisscoy jedoch 15%). Zentral ist auch die Schweizer Unterstützung des zivilgesellschaftlichen Beratungsausschusses, der die NATO in der Umsetzung der Agenda zu WPS berät. Der Dialog mit diesem Ausschuss wird vom DCAF ermöglicht. Die Schweiz, obwohl innenpolitisch weit entfernt von der Rolle als Vorreiterin in Sachen Geschlechtergleichheit, hat sich eine interessante Nische als Förderin dieser Thematik bei der NATO geschaffen. Der Einsatz für eine Sicherheitsperspektive, die mehr auf das Individuum und weniger auf militärische Manöver fokussiert (= Menschliche Sicherheit), ist Teil der Schweizer Aussenpolitik und eine Botschaft, die speziell von nationalen und internationalen Sicherheitsakteuren gehört werden muss – auch wenn diese oftmals schwer zu überzeugen sind. Die Schweiz verpflichtet sich dem Engagement für Frieden, Sicherheit und Geschlechtergleichheit auch im vierten nationalen Aktionsplan zu WPS. Die Zusammenarbeit mit der NATO in diesem Bereich wird dabei weiterhin Bestand haben.

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A Rumble in the Jungle: Kinshasa Goes to the Polls

by Paul Pryce. With degrees in political science from both sides of the pond, Paul Pryce has previously worked as Senior Research Fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada’s Canadian Armed Forces program, as a Research Fellow for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an Associate Fellow at the Latvian Institute of International Affairs. He has also served as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces.

A man walks past a wall filled with campaign posters in the district of Lingwala in Kinshasa.

A man walks past a wall filled with campaign posters in the district of Lingwala in Kinshasa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is approaching a crucial turning point. Among the world’s most conflict-prone countries and with the lowest rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the DRC will (perhabs) hold general elections on December 30, 2018 (instead of December 23). This will only be the sixth time Congolese citizens will go to the polls to elect their President since the DRC gained independence from Belgian rule in 1960, and it will be the first time since 2001 that current President Joseph Kabila Kabange will not be on the ballot. In August 2018, Kabila confirmed that he would not seek re-election, honouring the term limits set out in the constitution he worked to adopt in 2006.

Instead, resorting to what his critics call “Plan Putin”, Mr Kabila appointed a malleable acolyte to succeed him, and hinted that he will run again in 2023, as the constitution seems to permit. “I’m not saying goodbye, just see you later,” he told regional leaders at a recent summit.— Adrian Blomfield, “Congo Delays Election as Kabila Plots to Keep Power Whatever the Result“, The Telegraph, December 20th, 2018.

Originally scheduled to take place in November 2016, these elections have been repeatedly delayed due to security concerns, prompting several violent clashes between police and protesters in the DRC capital of Kinshasa over the past two years. As such, these elections could present an opportunity for the country to move forward from a series of civil wars that have left more than five million people dead and undermined governance in many regions of the country. That opportunity may have already been squandered, however, as the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD), Kabila’s party and support base, has been working to drastically limit the options available when Congolese citizens go to the polls.

In September, the Constitutional Court disqualified six candidates, including Jean-Pierre Bemba Gongo, who was Kabila’s main rival in the 2006 election and leads the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), a rebel group which disarmed and has become one of the main opposition parties in the DRC. While Bemba’s disqualification can be attributed to corruption charges he has faced in Congolese courts, more worrying is a separate decision disqualifying a seventh presidential candidate, Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, due to charges of real estate fraud, which are widely regarded as politically motivated. Independent polling throughout the summer has shown that Katumbi, who governed the DRC’s prosperous Katanga Province between 2007 and 2015, consistently leads among potential candidates, and that almost two-thirds of the electorate do not trust the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to hold free and fair elections.

Supporters of Democratic Republic of Congo's Union for Democracy and Social Progress shout slogans in the streets of Kinshasa, on December 21, 2018 (Photo: Luis Tato).

Supporters of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Union for Democracy and Social Progress shout slogans in the streets of Kinshasa, on December 21, 2018 (Photo: Luis Tato).

If the protests in 2016 and 2017 over the delayed elections are any indication, the security situation in Kinshasa and other communities could rapidly deteriorate if the electorate feels they have been denied an authentic choice in the head of state. Of the 21 candidates in the presidential race, there are only three main contenders including Emmanuel Ramzani Shadary. He has served as Minister of the Interior and Security under Kabila, was endorsed by Kabila as well as the PPRD and its coalition partners, which currently hold 332 out of the 500 seats in the National Assembly (the lower house of the DRC’s bicameral legislature) and 44 of the 108 seats in the Senate (the upper house). In the aforementioned opinion polls, Ramzani trails Katumbi and another opposition candidate, Félix Tshisekedi, but there is a sentiment among many Congolese that Ramzani has effectively been anointed as Kabila’s successor.

The European Union seems to share these apprehensions about the vote. In May 2017, Ramzani was added to an EU sanctions list – banning his entry to the Schengen Area and freezing his financial assets – amid allegations he had ordered the violent repression of several opposition parties, as well as atrocities against the ethnic Luba population in Kasai Province. Whether the EU will also deploy election observers to the DRC remains to be seen; although observers were deployed to monitor the 2005 constitutional referendum and the general elections in 2006 and 2011, the security situation could prevent the deployment of another such mission. Similarly, it is not yet clear whether the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), or the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will deploy election observation missions to the DRC. But the presence of independent election observers could help in defusing tensions, as has been emphasized by some of the religious leaders whose mediation was integral to even setting a date for the elections.

While the peaceful exit of Kabila is preferable to the kind of coup that ousted Robert Mugabe from power in Zimbabwe in November 2017, neighbouring countries will need to prepare for the potential for renewed conflict in the DRC and the arrival of new waves of refugees. Angola has gradually withdrawn its military assistance since June 2017, while Rwandan and Congolese forces have occasionally clashed near the eastern DRC city of Goma. Though the nature of their reactions differ, all those that share borders with the DRC seem to be preparing for an upheaval. A coordinated regional response would help to ensure that any conflicts resulting from the vote do not spill across borders but also that the DRC’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are upheld at this time. At the very least, the SADC is on alert, convening in August 2018 a summit in the Angolan capital of Luanda the leaders of 15 of the 16 member states – Kabila did not attend – to discuss the political instability in the DRC. But just as the Congo is at the heart of the African continent, this election should be top of mind for the leadership of the AU.

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Bahrain: a quiet conflict continues to simmer

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Over the past several years, Shia militants have waged a low-intensity insurgency against the Sunni rulers of the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, an important frontline in the proxy war between Iran and its rivals in the region. The Iranian-backed insurgency is rooted largely in a problem that has long plagued Bahrain’s ruling Al Khalifah dynasty: how to govern over a majority Shia population that for decades has been seething with hostility.

Hostility first turned into action in 1981, when the Tehran-backed Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain (IFLB) launched a failed coup attempt. US-American and Bahraini intelligence services maintain that Bahraini militants were being trained in Iran throughout the 1980s and 1990s, an assertion backed up by the occasional discovery of weapons caches throughout the kingdom.

However, a report on Bahrain’s security by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy notes that “Shi’a militancy in Bahrain was a largely indigenous phenomenon until 2011. Before then, young Shi’a men from slums such as Sanabis, Daih, and Bani Jamra regularly mounted riots against the security forces, barricading of their streets, burning tires, and throwing Molotov cocktails at security force vehicles and riot police of foot.”

The relatively haphazard nature of this anti-government activity, which lacked training, direction or even weapons, changed dramatically in 2011. It was then that peaceful protests inspired by the “Arab Spring” were crushed by the government, backed by Saudi and Emirati intervention forces that were bolstered by the ample deployment of armoured units. They didn’t have to travel far – a short causeway is all the separates Bahrain from its much larger, and more powerful, Saudi neighbor. By the time the protests subsided, several protesters lay dead and thousands wounded.

Bahraini police help an injured comrade after a bomb exploded during clashes between protesters and security forces on March 3, 2014 in the village of Daih, west of the capital Manama. Witnesses reported hearing a blast in Daih during a confrontation between protesters and police who fired tear gas and buckshot to disperse demonstrators.

Bahraini police help an injured comrade after a bomb exploded during clashes between protesters and security forces on March 3, 2014 in the village of Daih, west of the capital Manama. Witnesses reported hearing a blast in Daih during a confrontation between protesters and police who fired tear gas and buckshot to disperse demonstrators.

This lopsided crackdown pushed the anti-government movement in Bahrain towards militancy, and it was not long before IED attacks began taking place against a variety of government and economic targets in the country.

Although some attempts had been made prior, the insurgency hit a milestone in March 2014 when an IED attack killed two Bahraini police officers and an Emirati advisor. According to the Washington Institute report, the attackers in that incident utilised a “daisy-chain” of Claymore-type explosive devices against the officers, who were lured into the kill-zone by a staged protest.

Since then, although remaining small in numbers, the insurgents have become better armed and increasingly sophisticated, a byproduct, according to US and Bahraini officials, of encouragement and training conducted by instructors from Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, including Hezbollah.

A captured Bahraini militant interviewed by the Washington Post earlier this year alleged that he had been trained in Iran in 2011 and again in 2017, when an Iranian contact urged him to take action after the Bahraini government reinstated capital punishment.

A protester, holding a Bahraini flag, confronts a riot police armored personnel carrier in an attempt to stop it from entering the village of Bilad Al Qadeem, south of Manama, on January 6, 2015. Bahraini police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to scatter protesters who gathered outside the home of Sheikh Ali Salman, a Shi'ite Muslim opposition leader, after he was remanded in custody for a further 15 days. Around 100 protesters angry at the decision had assembled outside his house in the Manama suburb of Bilad al-Qadeem calling for his immediate release and clashes with police ensued.

A protester, holding a Bahraini flag, confronts a riot police armored personnel carrier in an attempt to stop it from entering the village of Bilad Al Qadeem, south of Manama, on January 6, 2015. Bahraini police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to scatter protesters who gathered outside the home of Sheikh Ali Salman, a Shi’ite Muslim opposition leader, after he was remanded in custody for a further 15 days. Around 100 protesters angry at the decision had assembled outside his house in the Manama suburb of Bilad al-Qadeem calling for his immediate release and clashes with police ensued.

According to the militant, who asked to be identified as Ibrahim, he was trained in the use of small arms, RPGs and a variety of other weapons in Iran, before returning to establish a bomb-making operation at a flat in Bahrain. The bomb components – which included C-4, batteries, wires and a remote trigger – were retrieved from dead drops after communication with a handler in Iran.

A number of other militants interviewed by the newspaper had similar stories of being recruited in-country in Bahrain, before being sent for training in Iran itself or in Iraq by what the US military described as “Iranian-backed special groups” such as Kata’ib Hezbollah.

Ample evidence suggests that Iranian support for Bahraini insurgents has been going on for quite some time, particularly in the form of maritime resupply missions from Iran to Bahrain. In December 2013, for example, Bahraini authorities intercepted a speedboat carrying large quantities of advanced bomb components, including 31 Claymore-type antipersonnel fragmentation mines and 12 EFP warheads, plus the electronics to arm and fire the devices, destined for a safe house in a Bahraini village. Two years later, in July 2015, another vessel was intercepted carrying 43 kilograms of C-4 type explosive, as well as eight AK-47s and ammunition. (Michael Knights, “Iranian EFPs in the Gulf: An Emerging Strategic Risk“, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, February 23rd, 2016).

A group of Bahraini men carrying national flags and signs supporting political prisoners marches quickly to evade police patrols on the lookout for violators of a protest ban, in Manama, Bahrain, on May 1, 2015.

A group of Bahraini men carrying national flags and signs supporting political prisoners marches quickly to evade police patrols on the lookout for violators of a protest ban, in Manama, Bahrain, on May 1, 2015.

Despite the threat that Iranian-backed Bahraini militants could pose to the US military presence in Bahrain, which is the headquarters of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, some analysts have speculated that Iran’s influence over the groups may be what prevents them from striking US targets. “There was a sense that the Iranians acted as a brake for these groups, saying ‘we’re not going to cross that line’,” the Washington Post quoted former US ambassador to Bahrain Thomas Krajeski as saying.

Looking to the future, however, it seems likely that the insurgency in Bahrain will continue, and may well pick up pace despite the effectiveness of Bahrain’s security forces. For one, Bahrain continues to be harsh in how it deals with opponents. Harsh government methods, in turn, create easy recruitment opportunities for Bahraini militant groups. Second, the conflict in Bahrain must be seen within the broader context of rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is currently driving other conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

“Iran might be trying to deter Bahraini crackdowns or develop leverage over the Gulf States more generally,” the Washington Institute report notes. “Indicators of a more ambitious Iranian strategy in Bahrain might include assassinations of Bahraini security leaders, stockpiling of larger stores of small arms and ammunition, further prison breaks or weapons thefts, and an expansion in the manpower pool of trained Bahraini militants available for use in a future uprising.”

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