Still an Open Question: What Can Twitter Do About Militancy?

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He researches the intersection of Islam, culture, and politics in Africa and Asia.

[…] ISIS message calling for people to return to Twitter, because even though Telegram is very useful and is a safe haven for them, nothing is as good as mobilizing, getting your message out very broadly as Twitter. — Alberto M. Fernandez, Vice President of Middle East Media Research Institute, in a hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the United States Senate on July 6, 2016, p. 40.

While terrorist groups in the Middle East have long taken advantage of social networking services from Facebook to Snapchat, Twitter remains unique in that it has enabled these militants to engage with the rest of the world. Like celebrities, journalists, and politicians, terrorists have often turned to Twitter to make their case in the court of public opinion. If the Western world wants to keep terrorist groups from transforming microblogging on Twitter into the long-term outlet for their propaganda, law enforcement agencies will have to integrate social media into their wider strategy for counterterrorism.

Drawing on al-Qaeda’s early success with social media, the Islamic State (ISIS) pioneered the use of Twitter by employing the social networking service to announce campaigns, disseminate propaganda, promote suicide attacks, and recruit fighters from the edges of the Middle East to the heart of the West. For half a decade, Twitter has allowed ISIS to reach target audiences across the globe.

“The past few years have seen social media as an effective tool for facilitating uprisings and enticing dissent in the Middle East,” states one report. “The embrace of social media in the region has made it a battleground for ISIS versus existing regimes, all spreading propaganda, recruiting sympathizers, and undermining rivals. Social media has given terrorists the ability to directly come into contact with their target audience and either spread terror or recruit. In fact, ISIS has been repeatedly described as the most adept terrorist group at using Internet and social media propaganda to recruit new members.”

Much of ISIS’s strength on Twitter has come from supporters outside the territories in the Middle East that the terrorist group once controlled. Pro-ISIS accounts on the social networking service numbered between forty-six thousand and seventy thousand in 2015, a year after the militants captured Mosul. The terrorist group’s reach on Twitter extends even to the United States, where authorities have just arrested a woman who joined a little-known pro-ISIS hacker group, the United Cyber Caliphate.

Tweets, photos, and other visuals from ISIS and ISIS-friendly accounts feature a mixture of slick production and attempts at intimacy and personal connection. (Source: Emerson T. Brooking and P. W. Singer, "War Goes Viral", The Atlantic, November 2016).

Tweets, photos, and other visuals from ISIS and ISIS-friendly accounts feature a mixture of slick production and attempts at intimacy and personal connection. (Source: Emerson T. Brooking and P. W. Singer, “War Goes Viral“, The Atlantic, November 2016).

“This large body of ‘passive supporters’ contributes to the volume of ISIS-related content proliferated on Twitter and appears to be a vital component of the ISIS social media campaign,” noted a report from Carnegie Mellon University. “Some of these passive sympathizers become recruiting targets. ISIS uses small teams of social media users to lavish attention on the potential recruits and move the conversation to more secure online platforms. Thus, while Twitter may not be the place where recruitment ends, growing evidence suggests that identifiable patterns of recruitment begin on Twitter.”

In an attempt to address the challenge presented by ISIS and other terrorist groups, Twitter has responded by banning accounts tied to the militants. In 2017, the social networking service opted to purge almost four hundred thousand terrorist-linked accounts. Twitter has adopted a similar no-holds-barred approach to other users with ulterior motives, such as Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.

Scholars continue to debate the ultimate effectiveness of suspending pro-ISIS Twitter accounts. “One argument made by some ISIS supporters, as well as some counterterrorism professionals, is that suspending social media users is a futile endeavor because the users will simply create a new account, thus negating the benefit of suspension,” observed a report by J. M. Berger and Heather Perez, experts on counterterrorism. “The fact that suspensions reduce key metrics in the period immediately following suspension is not surprising in itself, but we found that the depressive effects of suspension often continued even after an account returned and was not immediately re-suspended.”

During Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish Armed Forces borrowed a page from ISIS’s playbook, using social media to instill a sense of unopposable force. (Source: Brooking and Singer).

During Operation Euphrates Shield, the Turkish Armed Forces borrowed a page from ISIS’s playbook, using social media to instill a sense of unopposable force. (Source: Brooking and Singer).

Between 2015 and mid-2018, Twitter removed no less than 1.2 million accounts that expressed support for terrorism, earning praise in some corners for taking a proactive approach to ISIS’s exploitation of social media. However, the social networking service’s attempts to police itself have often raised complex questions about censorship, and some observers worry that the strategy could backfire. “Twitter’s policies hinder sympathizers on the platform, but counter-ISIS practitioners should not overstate the impact of these measures in the broader fight against the organization online,” argued a report by Audrey Alexander, a senior research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. “Silencing ISIS adherents on Twitter may produce unwanted side effects that challenge law enforcement’s ability to detect and disrupt threats posed by violent extremists.”

Though Twitter enhances ISIS’s ability to engage with followers and solicit support online, the terrorist group’s use of social media also provides intelligence and law enforcement agencies countless opportunities to target the militants. The FBI surveilled ISIS’s propagandists to track the militants’ reach inside the U.S., and the NSA battled the terrorist group across the Internet. In a notable example, the U.S. Air Force managed to locate an ISIS military base after one of the militants forgot to turn off geotagging before making a post to social media.

“Censorship is not a solution to counter the ISIS threat,” concluded a report by Andrea Ceron, Luigi Curini, and Stefano M. Iacus, professors at the University of Milan. “Quite the contrary, by decreasing expressed support for the terrorist group, censorship can favor radicalization.”

The RAND Corporation proposed that law enforcement agencies could mobilize influential Arab and Western Twitter users against ISIS, an approach that would circumvent concerns about censorship while allowing intelligence agencies to continue monitoring the terrorist group. As ISIS has all but lost control of its so-called caliphate, these debates have fallen by the wayside, but the potential for terrorist groups to exploit social media remains no less concerning. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and their allies throughout Africa and Asia remain as active as ever.

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter in particular must arrive at a comprehensive strategy to prevent terrorist groups from taking advantage of social media to plan attacks and recruit followers. Terrorists rely on social media to expand their reach and spread their message. To prevent social media from facilitating militancy in the Middle East and the West, Twitter and its allies in Silicon Valley need to devise an immediate solution to one of counterterrorism and the Internet’s most pressing challenges.

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How do terrorists talk to you?

The video above is from this excellent New York Times’ report: Rukmini Callimachi, “ISIS and the Lonely Young American“, June 27, 2015.

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Posted in Austin Michael Bodetti, Cyberwarfare, English, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Algerian Foreign Policy in a Post-Bouteflika Era

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.

Algerians continue to stage demonstrations, despite the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with protesters demanding the departure of all officials affiliated with the former president's regime (outside the Post Office Building in Algiers on April 05, 2019; photo by Enes Canli.

Algerians continue to stage demonstrations, despite the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with protesters demanding the departure of all officials affiliated with the former president’s regime (outside the Post Office Building in Algiers on April 05, 2019; photo by Enes Canli.

On 11 March 2019, one of Africa’s oldest dictators announced his intention to retire from politics. At 82 years of age, and plagued by health problems ever since he suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2013, Abdelaziz Bouteflika had implausibly sought a fifth term as President of Algeria in an election originally expected to be held in April 2019. Bouteflika’s about-face was precipitated by a month of mostly peaceful protests in Algiers and elsewhere in the country, as well as a statement of support for the protesters by Algerian military leaders. However, Bouteflika has postponed the presidential election until a “national conference” can be held to propose revisions to the country’s political system, which would then be codified in a new Constitution, even though Algeria’s current constitutional framework was only adopted in February 2016. This has prompted the protesters, who only fill the streets in higher numbers with each passing week, to accuse the President of drawing out the transition so as to retain power indefinitely. The uncertainty regarding Algeria’s political future has been compounded by Bouteflika’s resignation, rendered on April 2, and his likely succession as Interim President by Abdelkader Bensalah, the Chairman of the Council of the Nation, the upper house of Algeria’s parliament, in line with the current Constitution.

End of May 2018, soldiers of the Algerian People's National Armed Forces discovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in the south of the country, on the border with Mali, about 80 kilometers south of Algiers.

End of May 2018, soldiers of the Algerian People’s National Armed Forces discovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in the south of the country, on the border with Mali, about 80 kilometers south of Algiers.

Given these developments, it is worthwhile to consider how Algerian foreign policy might take shape in a post-Bouteflika era. Algeria has been a significant partner in the fight against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), both of which operate in the country and who seek the overthrow of Algeria’s secular government. In the wake of the Libyan civil war, and as the security situation in the Sahel has deteriorated, Algeria has also been targeted by militant Islamists, most famously in January 2013, when members of AQIM-affiliated al-Mourabitoun seized the Tigantourine gas facility near In Amenas, killing dozens. At the same time, Algerian policy has exacerbated a humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, including the forced expulsion of refugees without food or water with which to traverse the desert.

Based on some reports, as many as 32 candidates had sought to replace Bouteflika prior to the postponement of the election. It would be exceedingly difficult to provide an analysis of the potential impact each of these candidates might have on Algerian foreign policy, especially as some may not have yet considered Algeria’s place in the region and the broader international community. Though Bouteflika had been supported by the country’s governing coalition – comprised of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the Democratic National Rally (RND), the Algerian Popular Movement (MPA), and the Rally of Algerian Hope (TAJ) – there are a smattering of opposition parties represented in Algeria’s bicameral legislature: the Movement for the Society of Peace (MPS), the Justice and Development Front (FJD), Future Front (FF), the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the Workers’ Party (PT), the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), and others. To narrow this analysis, we will consider here only those candidates who have received backing from one of these parties or, with Bouteflika stepping down, could potentially receive such backing.

Ali Benflis, candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Algeria, in the offices of his campaign team, in Algiers, on April 14.

Ali Benflis, candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Algeria, in the offices of his campaign team, in Algiers, on April 14.

Ali Benflis called for a boycott of the April 2019 presidential election but might reconsider if there were sufficient reason to believe that a free and fair vote will be held. Benflis had served as Prime Minister of Algeria from 2000 to 2003, and then emerged as Bouteflika’s main challenger in the 2004 and 2014 presidential elections. Benflis seems intent on implementing the security sector reforms necessary for ensuring the health of Algeria’s democracy and that Algeria is defended by a professional military force, but it is not readily apparent as to what role, if any, Benflis envisions for Algeria in resolving the humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, stemming the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, or combating militant Islamist forces in the Sahel. Given the strong focus of his statements in recent years on domestic issues, such as food security and the diversification away from oil and gas production, it is likely that Algeria would be less engaged in regional and international affairs under Benflis’ leadership.

Algerian businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz (C) arrives in front of the city hall of Algiers during a gathering for his supporters, on February 23, 2019. (Photo: Ryad Kramdi).

Algerian businessman and political activist Rachid Nekkaz (C) arrives in front of the city hall of Algiers during a gathering for his supporters, on February 23, 2019. (Photo: Ryad Kramdi).

Rachid Nekkaz is perhaps the most unusual presidential candidate in Algeria’s recent history. Although he has renounced his French citizenship in order to exclusively become a citizen of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria, Algerian constitutional law prohibits anyone who has ever held the citizenship of another country to seek election as President. To circumvent this, Nekkaz, a wealthy entrepreneur, intends for his cousin, an Algiers-based mechanic with the same name, to run in his stead. If successful, the cousin would appoint Nekkaz his Vice President, then resign so that Nekkaz could assume the presidency. Nekkaz has also been partial to political theatrics, most recently delivering an hour-long speech on the steps of the Christiansborg Palace, seat of the Danish government in Copenhagen, in September 2018, during which he accused the Prime Minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, of personally financing terrorism. In 2007, he also sought to become an officially recognized candidate for the French presidency but could not gather the required number of signatures.

There is little to suggest that Nekkaz would pursue meaningful reforms in Algeria and his behaviour in both French and Algerian politics over the past decade suggests a tendency toward populism. For the protesters angered by the elitism of Bouteflika and his allies, that populism and irreverence might well be appealing. However, as questions abound about the future of the League of Arab States, the Arab Maghreb Union, and other regional and international organizations of which Algeria is a member, as well as some of the pressing regional issues, the election of Nekkaz would have a seriously negative effect on Algerian influence and impair constructive dialogue.

Lakhdar Brahimi attends the "Rethinking and Reforming Global Governance" session on day three of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2019 on March 28, 2019. He is even older than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Lakhdar Brahimi attends the “Rethinking and Reforming Global Governance” session on day three of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2019 on March 28, 2019. He is even older than Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Though not a declared candidate, there has been some speculation as to whether Lakhdar Brahimi could emerge as a unifying figure in Algeria’s post-Bouteflika politics. A respected diplomat and statesman, Brahimi played an integral role in South Africa’s post-apartheid transition, efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and Iraq following the US-led interventions in those countries, and most recently served as the United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy for Syria in 2012-2014. In March 2019, Bouteflika seemed to take Brahimi out of the running by appointing him to chair the conference that revises the Constitution. However, that role, if the revisions are timely and satisfy societal grievances, might also serve to reinforce Brahimi’s role as a figure for national reconciliation. Interestingly, Brahimi has broken with Algeria’s conventional policy on Western Sahara, even calling in a December 2016 speech for joint administration of that territory by Algeria and Morocco. Brahimi has also been rather outspoken about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even when his role has had little to do with that issue. In 2004, for example, he attracted controversy for calling Israeli policy toward the West Bank and Gaza “the big poison in the region” and then criticizing American policymakers for their “thoughtless support” of Israel in regional affairs. Certainly, a more assertive foreign policy could be expected under Brahimi, though it is unclear whether this would extend to Algeria taking a side in the diplomatic dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Ali Ghediri in February 2019.

Ali Ghediri in February 2019.

Ali Ghediri, a retired general, is a likely successor to Bouteflika. Few details have been offered thus far as to his vision for Algeria’s future, with much of his public statements focusing on the need for stability and references to the terrible toll wrought by the civil war Algeria experienced from 1991 to 2002, in which more than 100,000 people lost their lives. This message is not likely to resonate with the youth who have led the protest movement thus far, having no memory of the conflict, but it could draw the endorsement of the FLN-led governing coalition, who no doubt fear the potential loss of their control over the country with Bouteflika’s retirement and what that could mean for the 16-year-old peace. Many Algerians speak of “le pouvoir” (the powers that be), a kind of deep state comprised of military leaders, senior bureaucrats, and business elites who have rendered Bouteflika little more than a figurehead and so wield the true power in Algerian politics. The fear is that Ghediri could be backed by “le pouvoir” as a false alternative to Bouteflika, offering voters the semblance of political change without offering any meaningful reforms. Were these fears to be realized, Algerian foreign policy would likely remain consistent through the post-Bouteflika transition, but it is unclear whether Algeria could be a credible partner in regional counter-terrorism efforts. In fact, some protesters might become radicalized, expressing through violent means their anger at being denied a democratic change in Algeria.

With a population of more than 42 million people and a territory that encompasses a significant swath of Northern Africa, Algeria is a regional power and a significant participant in the international community. When Bouteflika leaves power, and how he does, will have bearing well beyond Algerian borders. Much as the African Union must now hold Bouteflika accountable for his commitment to cede power, security partners should also follow how the debate evolves in Algerian society regarding Algeria’s place in the world and what contributions it might yet make. The rise of populism could exacerbate conflicts and the cost of the humanitarian crisis in Western Sahara, but a ‘business as usual’ attitude at the highest echelons of Algerian politics will not advance the pursuit of peace and stability in the Sahel.

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How Russia Annexed Venezuela without Firing a Shot (Yet)

by Caleb M. Larson. He covers 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.

Russia and Venezuela are friends of convenience. Under the regime of Hugo Chávez their relationship centered around a common enemy, the United States. Today under Nicolás Maduro, the Moscow-Caracas axis centers around economic opportunities, influence, and security. The Maduro regime is concerned with self-preservation, and Moscow is deeply intent securing lucrative economic opportunities in the oil sector. As a realist state, Russia is also determined to increase influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States. The unstable political situation in Venezuela allows Moscow to achieve some of these foreign policy goals through economic means as Venezuela’s lender of last resort.

Venezuela likewise continues to invest heavily in Russian products, mostly military equipment and weapons systems. Under Maduro, Venezuela has also partnered most prominently with the Russian oil company Rosneft in trading Venezuela’s enormous oil assets and future development projects for loans, and in establishing the Petro, the world’s first state-backed cryptocurrency. Venezuela is currently heavily indebted to external creditors, in particular to Russia, and its solvency is in question. Russia in turn, continues to provide the Maduro regime with lines of credit and armed manpower via the private military company Wagner and regular troops, in return for payments in oil, exploration deals, and cryptocurrency support of dubious value.

On 24 March 2019, Russia used an Ilyushin IL-62M and an Antonov AN-124 to transport around 100 soldiers and 35 tons of material (the image shows the unloading of trucks) from the Russian military air base at Chkalovsky to Caracas International Airport with a stopover in Syria.

On 24 March 2019, Russia used an Ilyushin IL-62M and an Antonov AN-124 to transport around 100 soldiers and 35 tons of material (the image shows the unloading of trucks) from the Russian military air base at Chkalovsky to Simón Bolívar International Airport with a stopover in Syria (see also Carlos Garcia et al., “Russian Air Force Planes Land in Venezuela Carrying Troops: Reports“, Reuters, 24.03.2019).

Guns & Gestures
The arrival of two Tupolev Tu-160’s in Caracas and subsequent military maneuvers over the Caribbean made headlines last December, but it is not the first time the nuclear-capable platforms have visited Venezuela. Two Tu-160’s also paid a visit to Venezuela in September 2008 and 2013. A part of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet also participated in joint naval maneuvers in the Caribbean with Venezuela in 2008. Although the United States has blasted the current Russian aviation presence in Venezuela, it is not without precedent.

Russian and Venezuelan partnership in the arms industry is extensive and includes small arms as well as larger weapons platforms. In 2007, Venezuela purchased 5,000 Dragunov sniper rifles (delivered in 2008, according to Stratfor), 100,000 AK-103 assault rifles (Anna Khakee, Pablo Dreyfus, and Anne-Kathrin Glatz, “An Uphill Battle: Understanding Small Arms Transfers“, Small Arms Survey, 2006, p. 87), and was in negotiations to open a plant to build 25,000 licensed-built AK-103 rifles annually. As of 2009, over $4 billion in arms sales were reported for 92 T-72’s, the Buk-M2 and the S-300 air defense systems, and BMP-3’s, 24 Sukhoi-30MK’s, and an assortment of helicopter gunships and cargo transports (see also a SIPRI’s listing of weapon systems supplied by Russia to Venezuela between 2000 and 2018).

Under Chávez, Venezuela also secured a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia in 2010, intending to build a nuclear reactor, ironically to ease power blackouts caused by unreliable electric grid infrastructure in the world’s most oil-rich nation. These nuclear plans have yet to be realized, and in the post-Fukushima world, future development would appear unlikely.

Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers land in Venezuela for “combined operational flights” in December 2018.

Sold to Moscow
The vast majority of Venezuela’s purchasing power stems from both proven and unproven oil reserves. Venezuela enjoys the largest proven oil reserves on the planet, at over 300 billion barrels, and has used this potential source of income to finance a mismanaged economy via lines of credit given by Russia in return for oil and natural gas exploration and development rights, and by shipments of millions of barrels of oil to repay debts. Although the heyday of massive Soviet financial assistance in Latin America is long over, continued Russian investment into the region indicates a renewed, long-term interest in maintaining and deepening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

In 2011 at least two $4 billion loans were secured from Russia ostensibly to modernize Venezuela’s aging military. A further $6.5 billion was given from the Russian oil company Rosneft to the Venezuela state-owned oil and natural-gas company, PdVSA for 4 million barrels of crude oil per month, which Venezuela is unable to deliver in full. This credit-for-oil scheme delivers oil straight to Rosneft and prevents oil from being sold on the world market to refineries, further impoverishing the Venezuelan economy and making Caracas more beholden to Moscow.

In 2016, Rosneft and PdVSA proposed jointly developing Venezuelan offshore natural gas fields. Additionally, Venezuela offered 49.9% of PdVSA’s Citgo shares (a US-based, Venezuelan-owned refinery) as loan collateral to Rosneft for a $1.5 billion loan top of PdVSA’s previous bond swap using 50.1% of its Citgo shares. Citgo is Venezuela’s most valuable foreign asset. Thus, Rosneft’s Citgo ownership is concerning, although Citgo is in the process of cutting ties with PdVSA to avoid US sanctions against Venezuela and to ensure that creditors would not seize Citgo if Caracas defaults on debt payments.

Additionally, Rosneft owns 40% stakes in four significant PdVSA oil exploration and development projects, Petromonagas, Petrovictoria, Petroperija, Boqueron, and a 32% stake in Petromiranda. Incredibly, PdVSA also offered Rosneft a 10% stake in Petropiar, perhaps PdVSA’s most valuable project (“Vladimir’s Venezuela“, Reuters, 11.08.2017). The Petropiar project centers around the Orinoco Oil Belt, one of the world’s largest recoverable oil accumulations, and likely one of Venezuela’s most valuable domestic assets.

Russian entry into Venezuela’s oil economy represents a serious coup for a non-OPEC member. Low oil prices have significantly reduced Russian economic clout, but Russian influence in Venezuela’s oil industry could allow Rosneft to raise global oil prices by controlling much of Venezuelan output. Depending on the success of the above oil projects, Rosneft is poised to absorb a significant amount of the world’s oil wealth.

A look into Venezuelan finances paints a clearer picture of how Rosneft stands to gain from these deals. Venezuela owes over $100 billion to external creditors, and possibly as much as $150 billion. In 2018, oil production was approximately at 1.5 million barrels a day, down from 3.2 million a day in 2008.

Whether Venezuela defaults on debt and loan payments or not, solvency is precarious. Serious inroads have been made by Russia, in particular in securing significant stakes in oil projects by Rosneft. Russian strategic positioning as Venezuela’s lender of last resort gives Rosneft a significant amount of leverage over Maduro and his cronies and has resulted in Russian ownership of a large number of significant Venezuelan oil assets.

The logo of the "Petro" is displayed next to images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) and the current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a building in downtown Caracas, on September 21, 2018. Six months after Venezuela introduced the Petro cryptocurrency, with which the Maduro government seeks to evade financial sanctions from the US, started selling to the public, it is still not exchangeable for money, goods or other cryptocurrencies such as the Bitcoin.

The logo of the “Petro” is displayed next to images of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) and the current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a building in downtown Caracas, on September 21, 2018. Six months after Venezuela introduced the Petro cryptocurrency, with which the Maduro government seeks to evade financial sanctions from the US, started selling to the public, it is still not exchangeable for money, goods or other cryptocurrencies such as the Bitcoin.

The Petro
Introduced in February 2018 as a way to skirt sanctions from the United States and to access financing and investment from abroad, the Petro was to be backed against Venezuela’s oil, gold, gas, and diamond reserves and was the first state-back cryptocurrency. The move was aimed at increasing Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves via online Petro sales in order to provide Venezuela some degree of freedom from US sanctions.

Russia too has voiced support for a financial system that could rival the dollar in order to sidestep US and European sanctions. The Bitcoin and burgeoning cryptocurrency craze provided a convenient and cost-effective opportunity to experiment on alternative financial markets. Given the unregulated nature of cryptocurrencies, Russia could in theory, introduce a cryptocurrency at home that would allow it to skirt US sanctions, much the same as the Petro aims to do. Rather than create an online version of the Ruble that could jeopardize the Russian currency, Russia encouraged Venezuela to attempt an initial foray into state-backed cryptocurrencies itself and learn from the Caracas experiment.

Maduro announced the introduction of the cryptocurrency flanked by two Russian advisors during a stiff and choreographed Petro cryptocurrency launch. The Venezuelan Minister of Finance Simón Zerpa Delgado was later photographed in Moscow hand-delivering a report on the findings of the Venezuelan experience with the Petro to his Russian counterpart (see the Twitter message below). Maduro, in turn, directed companies in Venezuela to execute international transactions through the Russian Evorfinance Mosnarbank.

The success of the Petro is hard to gauge. Maduro announced via Twitter that the Petro had raised $5 billion, although but this figure may be unreliable and is difficult to prove. Hindering the Petro’s success is the White House Executive Order forbidding any transactions in Petro. Of great concern is how the Petro would facilitate money laundering and other criminal activity due to the anonymity such currencies offer to online buyers and sellers.

Wagner, a Partnership Continued
As previously detailed, Wagner is a Russian private military company that has had a presence in North Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine. Wagner members have provided training, security, and participated in direct action operations on behalf of both Russia and their host countries. Made up mostly of Russian ex-military, Wagner functions an easily-deniable extension of the Russian Ministry of Defense and a useful tool in advancing the Russian foreign policy agenda.

Recently the group has been observed in Caracas, seemingly as a Pretorian Guard of sorts for the embattled Maduro, who has had to contend with both an assassination attempt (see video below), and a rival to the presidency that is widely recognized within the Americas and Europe. Interestingly, this contingent of Wagner members may be augmenting a preexisting Russian presence in Venezuela. A Reuters source claims that Wagner has had some presence in Venezuela since May of 2018. The same report also claims that the latest contingent made its way to Caracas not directly from Russia, but from various countries where they had been executing other missions.

Wagner’s independence from Venezuelan politics ensures reliability and dependability. When considering the massive amount of sunk costs that Russia has put into the Maduro government, having boots on the ground would help to preserve the declining Maduro regime. A physical presence would also be useful to protect oil infrastructure if an armed conflict breaks out, especially with the rhetoric coming from the White House. Rosneft in particular would be glad to see a Russian presence in Venezuela, given the massive amount of investment and prospective profits to be made via oil and natural gas exploration.

Regular Soldiers for “Regular Work”
Additional regular Russian personnel were seen landing in Caracas on March 24th. Russia denies claims that this additional contingent will have any involvement in military operations, but a look at what and who arrived raises questions. According to reports, approximately 100 personnel and 35 tons of supplies, mostly foodstuffs arrived. One of the reported passengers was Colonel-General Vasily Tonkokurov. Tonkokurov, who previously served with distinction in Afghanistan and Chechnya, was recently appointed as Chief of the Main Staff of the Ground Forces.

More interesting than the size and composition of the Russian contingent in Venezuela is Tonkokurov’s presence. What could a decorated and combat-tested general be up to up Venezuela? Playing the role of a weapons salesman and armorer? This may be true. However as previously stated, Russia, via Rosneft, has put a massive amount of money into keeping the Maduro regime afloat. Having a battle-tested general in-country would certainly help to retain newly acquired assets if a civil war or armed conflict breaks out. Official statements by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs state that the timeline of the Russia presence in Venezuela is open-ended; Russia is conducting “the implementation of agreements in the field of military-technical cooperation. How long? As much as they need. As much as the Venezuelan government will need.”

Skeptics are reminded that Russian entry into the Syrian Civil War was predicted to be quagmirical, but that Russia effectively saved Bashar al-Assad from defeat. Russia gained combat experience, has tested weapon systems, and was able to secure its strategic interests in the Middle East. Combined with a dysfunctional US Congress and an unclear foreign policy agenda, Russian intervention in Venezuela looks more like a well thought, low-risk, high-reward gamble.

A Pebble in America’s Shoe
Ultimately Russia is not so interested in Maduro the man as Venezuela the investment. Preserving Maduro in Caracas protects Russian investments in Venezuela’s potentially profitable oil sector, and could entail more arms sales down the line. Perhaps more importantly however is how Venezuela is facilitating a Russian presence in Latin America. From Caracas, Moscow has the opportunity to project itself, and its agenda, not only into neighboring South American countries but also into large swaths of Latin America.

Russia has shown a desire for an increased presence globally. Wagner and other private military contractors have been the vehicles of Russian foreign policy in Syria, CAR, Sudan, Libya, and Ukraine. By offering predatory investments to a dictator willing to sell out his country for a song, and by slowly building up both an overt and covert armed presence in Caracas, Russia is creeping into Latin America and cheaply accomplishing strategic economic and foreign policy objectives. Future developments should be closely watched.

Posted in Armed Forces, Caleb M. Larson, International, Russia, Security Policy, Venezuela | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The secret clubs of intelligence and security services: A look behind the scenes of counter-terrorism cooperation in Europe

by Dr. Adrian Hänni. He is a lecturer in political history at the Swiss Distance Learning University and is currently doing research at the University of Newcastle in Australia. He has been living in Washington D.C. and Zurich. This article is a slightly modified and translated version of an earlier German-language version published in VSN Bulletin, no. 3, 2018, p. 1-4.

Jihadist violence and the support of a considerable number of European militants for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) evoked repeated and vociferous demands for improved counter-terrorism cooperation between the European security services in recent years. Despite playing a key role in multilateral intelligence sharing and operative cooperation, a growing number of informal and secretive clubs are, however, hardly ever the subject of political debates, media coverage or expert discussions. The following article provides an outline.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, right, talks MI5 head Andrew Parker during symposium on hybrid threat scenarios in Berlin Monday, May 14, 2018. (Photo: Kay Nietfeld).

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, right, talks MI5 head Andrew Parker during symposium on hybrid threat scenarios in Berlin Monday, May 14, 2018. (Photo: Kay Nietfeld).

When the heads of the European domestic intelligence services came together in Berlin in May 2018 for a symposium organized by the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), the Director General of Great Britain’s MI5, Andrew Parker, declared empathically that counter-terrorism cooperation between European intelligence services was more important than ever. In the first public speech of a MI5 head abroad, Parker emphasized: “For many years we and partner services like the BfV have worked to develop and invest in strong intelligence and security partnerships across Europe: bilaterally, multilaterally and with EU institutions. In today’s uncertain world, we all need that shared strength more than ever.”

What the head of MI5 referred to, in his attempt to reassure European partners in light of the impending Brexit, is the somewhat byzantine system to coordinate counter-terrorism efforts in Europe and beyond. This system had been shaped first by 9/11 as well as the major terrorist bombings in Madrid (2004) and London (2005), before it was modified and enlarged in the last few years, as a reaction to the violence on European soil organized or inspired by ISIS. It includes bilateral arrangements, European Union (EU) institutions, various international organizations as well as a number of more informal multilateral clubs.

International organizations and informal institutions
Within the structures of the EU, a key institution is the Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN), formerly known as the EU Situation Centre (EU SITCEN). This Brussels-based body does not collect its own intelligence but relies on information provided by the services of the member states. The European Council maintains an office of the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (CTC), which is responsible for coordinating the work of the Council in combatting terrorism and improving the respective communication between the EU and third countries. Most recently, Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, opened the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), which since early 2016 functions as a platform for information sharing and operational coordination (Robert Lackner, “Intelligence: The Missing Dimension in EU Security Policies?“, Global View, no. 1, 2016, p. 6-8).

Aerial photograph of the National Security Agency by Trevor Paglen.

Aerial photograph of the National Security Agency by Trevor Paglen.

Outside of EU institutions, multilateral cooperation takes place in other international organizations and informal networks for which counter-terrorism is not the principal or even sole purpose. Among them are the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the G7. Equally if not more important, however, are several informal multilateral clubs of intelligence and security services for which counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing are the primary raisons d’être. These clubs, which operate largely in secrecy and without media coverage, include the Club de Berne’s Counterterrorist Group (CTG), the Paris Group, the SIGINT Seniors, the Police Working Group on Terrorism (PWGOT), and the G 13+. Considering the quite remarkable fact that these multilateral clubs are largely unknown to the public and have so far, as far as I am aware, not been discussed as a whole, they will be briefly introduced in this article.

The CTG was created following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as an initiative of the Club de Berne. The oldest multilateral institution set up for counter-terrorism cooperation, the Club de Berne had been organized as an annual gathering of the directors of West European domestic intelligence services as early as 1969. Composed of intelligence and police services from the EU countries, the United States, Norway, and Switzerland, the CTG focuses on analyses of common threats, mainly Islamist terrorism, and on facilitating information exchange and operational cooperation. The group, probably one of the most important in day-to-day counter-terrorism cooperation, has been seeking closer connections to EU structures in the last few years, especially to Europol. Since July 2016, the Club de Berne and the CTG also maintain an operative platform in The Hague, where the domestic intelligence services of the member states, including the Swiss Nachrichtendienst des Bundes (NDB), run a common database and a real-time information system. [1]

Aerial photograph of the National Reconnaissance Office by Trevor Paglen.

Aerial photograph of the National Reconnaissance Office by Trevor Paglen.

The special branches of the national police forces of the EU member states and Norway cooperate within the secret PWGOT. This group was established already in 1979 by the British Metropolitan Police Special Branch, the Dutch Bijzondere Zaken Centrale of the Centrale Recherche Informatiedienst, the West German Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA), and the Belgian Gendarmerie. The foundation of the PWGOT resulted largely from the impression, strongly held among its founding members and particularly the British in the late 1970s, that police cooperation was still insufficient on the operational level.

Accordingly, the objectives of the very informal working group, which holds meetings twice a year, have been the exchange of information (on the operational level), of officials (by promoting the secondment of officers), and of expertise (through the organization of specialist seminars). In the mid-1990s, security expert Peter Chalk concluded that the main value of the PWGOT had been “its role in promoting close working relationships and personal goodwill between the different national agencies involved in the fight against terrorism” (Peter Chalk, “West European Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: The Evolving Dynamic“, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996, p. 124). [2]

The new clubs on the block
The Paris Group was set up in early 2016, as a result of increased terrorist violence on European soil following the rise of ISIS and especially the major attacks in Paris in January and November 2015. The meetings of this club bring together the intelligence coordinators from 15 European countries, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Great Britain, Norway, and Sweden. The Paris Group accordingly goes beyond the cooperation of the domestic intelligence services and likely includes the foreign intelligence services. [3]

Aerial photograph of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency by Trevor Paglen.

Aerial photograph of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency by Trevor Paglen.

Another institution set up recently in light of the challenges caused by ISIS and the war in Syria is the Group 13+ (G 13+). This Belgian-led initiative is not an inter-service group but instead brings together the interior ministers of several European states. Besides Belgium, members of the G 13+, which was originally called the EU9 Group, include the EU member states Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Poland – but also Switzerland and Norway. Already since June 2013, informal meetings are held to discuss information sharing and other common measures against the so-called foreign fighters, by this time especially with regard to the return of fighters who had joined the ranks of ISIS. Apparently, the informal G 13+ has been able to give “impulses from without” for activities that were later pursued at the EU level. This forum therefore provides the Swiss interior ministry with an opportunity to directly help shaping European policies on specific aspects of counter-terrorism. [4]

The most secret multilateral club are the SIGINT Seniors, the counter-terrorism coalition of intelligence agencies concerned with the collection of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). This NSA-led effort is composed of two divisions, SIGINT Seniors Europe and SIGINT Seniors Pacific. SIGINT Seniors Europe was set up in 1982 with a primary focus on information about the Soviet military. After 9/11, the group changed its focus to counter-terrorism and was enlarged from 9 to 14 members: the “Five Eyes” USA, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

SIGINT Seniors Europe holds an annual conference and focuses on targeting suspected terrorists as well as on collaboration on the development of new surveillance tools and techniques. Since 2006, it also works to exploit the Internet as part of counter-terrorism. The club runs its own communication system called SIGDASYS to share copies of intercepted communications. SIGINT Seniors Pacific on the other hand was formed by the NSA in 2005. The network, which includes the “Five Eyes” as well as the SIGINT intelligence services of South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, France, and India (as of 2013), maintains a geographical focus on the Asia-Pacific region and operates a complementary communication system called CRUSHED ICE. [5]

On the very day when Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer publicly stated the “lack of contact” between the NDB and the NSA, documents leaked by Edward Snowden explicitly mentioned Switzerland as a cooperation partner.

On the very day when Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer publicly stated the “lack of contact” between the NDB and the NSA, documents leaked by Edward Snowden explicitly mentioned Switzerland as a cooperation partner.

The architecture of multilateral clubs outlined this article is aimed to bring closer together the intelligence services of Europe, and to a lesser degree of North America, under the banner of international counter-terrorism cooperation. While the foundation of the architecture with institutions such as the Club de Berne and the PWGOT was built already in the 1970s, this counter-terrorism structure has essentially been established in the years since 9/11. Its breakdown corresponds largely to the outline of the national intelligence communities: The CTG brings together the domestic intelligence services, the Paris Group the national intelligence coordinators and the foreign intelligence services, the SIGINT Seniors the signals intelligence services, and the PWGOT the special units of the national police forces. In addition, the G 13+ include the level of (interior)ministers while addressing a specific aspect of counter-terrorism that is currently given high priority: the problems posed by foreign fighters. At least the CTG and the SIGINT Seniors furthermore run their own secret communication systems, through which intelligence is exchanged multilaterally on a regular basis.

In view of jihadist violence, the need of improved counter-terrorism cooperation in Europe, and the transatlantic world more generally, has been discussed time and again in recent years. The establishment of an integrated European intelligence service stands politically without a chance for the time being, occasional calls for the creation of such a body notwithstanding. Politicians, experts, and media outlets therefore concentrate their attention mainly on EU institutions such as INTCEN and Europol as well as NATO. In actual fact, multilateral intelligence sharing and operative counter-terrorism coordination take place to a more significant degree in the secret clubs of the intelligence services introduced in this article. Recently, some of these clubs are also looking for closer cooperation with, or even integration into, EU institutions. Switzerland is firmly integrated into this international cooperation – so far undisturbed by critical eyes in parliament and the broader population.

[1] On the CTG see Richard J. Aldrich, “Transatlantic Intelligence and Security Cooperation“, International Affairs, vol 80, no. 4, 2004, p. 740f; Mathieu Deflem, “Europol and the Policing of International Terrorism: Counter-Terrorism in a Global Perspective“, Justice Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 3, 2006, p. 341; “Implementation of the Counter-terrorism Agenda Set by the European Council“, Note from EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator to Delegations, Council of the European Union, Brussels, 4 November 2016. On the early history of the Club de Berne see Aviva Guttmann, “The Origins of International Counterterrorism: Switzerland at the Forefront of Crisis Negotiations, Multilateral Diplomacy, and Intelligence Cooperation (1969-1977)“, Leiden: Brill, 2018, p. 183-229.
[2] On the PWGOT in general see John Benyon, “Policing the European Union: The Changing Basis of Cooperation on Law Enforcement“, International Affairs, vol. 70, no. 3, 1994, p. 511f; Eva Oberloskamp, “Codename TREVI: Terrorismusbekämpfung und die Anfänge einer europäischen Innenpolitik in den 1970er Jahren“, Berlin: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2017, p. 225f; Didier Bigo, “Polices en réseaux: l’expérience européenne“, Paris: Presses de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, 1996, p. 90.
[3] On the Paris Group see “Implementation of the Counter-terrorism Agenda Set by the European Council“, p. 24.
[4] On the G 13+ see “Implementation of the Counter-terrorism Agenda Set by the European Council“, p. 38; “Gruppe der EU9, Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Andrej Hunko, Wolfgang Gehrcke, Jan Korte, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion Die Linke“, Drucksache 18/4017, Deutscher Bundestag, 18. Wahlperiode, 17 February 2015.
[5] On the SIGINT Seniors see Ryan Gallagher, “The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed“, The Intercept, 1 March 2018, which is based on NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden.

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Zwischen Venus und Mars: Europäische Strategie und Strategische Autonomie nach dem Brexit

Von Cornelia-Adriana Baciu (Twitter). Sie ist Doktorandin an der School of Law and Government, Dublin City University und forscht zum Thema EU-Verteidigungspolitik und Transformationsprozesse im Wehrbereich. 2019 ist ihr Sammelband “Peace, Security and Defence Cooperation in Post-Brexit Europe: Risks and Opportunities” erschienen, welches zusammen mit Professor John Doyle, Dekan an Dublin City University, herausgegeben wurde. Sie koordiniert das Forschungsnetzwerk European Security and Strategy.

Fallschirmjäger des 173. Infanterie Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) der U.S. Army Europe führen am 6. November 2013 während der NATO-Übung Steadfast Jazz ein gemeinsames Training mit estnischen Partnern in der Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Polen durch.

Fallschirmjäger des 173. Infanterie Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) der U.S. Army Europe führen am 6. November 2013 während der NATO-Übung Steadfast Jazz ein gemeinsames Training mit estnischen Partnern in der Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Polen durch.

Die Amerikaner sind vom Mars, Europäer sind von der Venus” waren 2003 die einleitenden Worte aus Robert Kagans Buch “Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order” in Bezug auf die EU- und die US-Außenpolitik. Während Europa einem “politischen Paradies” ähnlich wie der von Immanuel Kant angestrebten Ordnung des ewigen Friedens glich, waren die USA die einzige Supermacht, die viel Geld in die Verteidigung investierten und in einer “gewalttätigen, anarchischen Hobbes‘schen Welt” beinahe in jedem Umfeld sowie an zahlreichen Fronten gleichzeitig hätten Krieg führen können. Die kontrastierenden Weltanschauungen bezüglich der globalen Sicherheitsordnung sowie einseitiger Militärinterventionen ohne völkerrechtliches Mandat haben sich bewahrt. Als Folge der unterschiedlichen Verteidigungsausgaben nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg entwickelte sich jedoch eine Sicherheitsdependenz Europas von den USA. Dies könnte sich nach dem Brexit allmählich ändern. Die Europäer könnten anfangen sozusagen sich zwischen Venus und Mars auszubalancieren, was de facto bedeutet, mehr Geld für Frieden und Stabilität in Europa und der Welt auszugeben und eine stärkere, autonomere Verteidigungsindustrie zu entwickeln.

Die Kommission schlägt vor zwischen 2021 und 2027 für den Europäischen Verteidigungsfonds 13 Mrd. € bereitzustellen. Damit wird die EU unter den Top 4 der Investoren für Rüstungsforschung und -technologie in Europa rangieren.

Die Kommission schlägt vor zwischen 2021 und 2027 für den Europäischen Verteidigungsfonds 13 Mrd. € bereitzustellen. Damit wird die EU unter den Top 4 der Investoren für Rüstungsforschung und -technologie in Europa rangieren.

Unabhängig von dem Brexit-Ergebnis, hat das Referendum im Juni 2016 für den Austritt Großbritanniens aus der EU ein Wendemomentum für das Kooperationspotenzial im Sicherheits- und Verteidigungsbereich in Europa erzeugt. Der Brexit löste ernsthafte Debatten über die strategische Autonomie und Sicherheit Europas aus (siehe beispielsweise Barbara Lippert, Nicolai von Ondarza und Volker Perthes, “Strategische Autonomie Europas“, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Februar 2019). Neue strategische Instrumente und institutionelle Strukturen wie PESCO, der Europäische Verteidigungsfonds (European Defence Fund, EDF) und die Koordinierte Jährliche Überprüfung der Verteidigung (Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, CARD) sowie die Weiterentwicklung der militärischen Planungs- und Handlungsfähigkeit für die Durchführung von Friedensmissionen könnten den Wert der Verteidigungszusammenarbeit erhöhen. Damit könnten neue Fähigkeiten in der Krisenbewältigung und der internationalen Friedensstrategie der EU generiert werden. Es gibt jedoch noch einiges zu tun, bis die EU zu einer “Kraft für den Frieden” werden könnte. Die geplante 22-fache Erhöhung der Sicherheits- und Verteidigungsinvestitionen im mehrjährigen Finanzrahmen 2021-2027 könnte ein erster Schritt sein, um das Vakuum zu füllen, das durch den geplanten Austritt Großbritanniens hinterlassen wird.

Welche Folgen ein Austritt Großbritanniens auf die Gemeinsame Sicherheits- und Verteidigungspolitik bzw. Gemeinsame Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik (GSVP/GASP) haben könnte, lässt sich durch eine kontrafaktische vergleichende Analyse der zwei der dominanten Szenarien (Austritt mit oder ohne Abkommen) besser einschätzen.

Im Falle eines Austritts ohne Abkommen werden britische Sicherheits- und Verteidigungsmittel, einschließlich nuklearer Fähigkeiten, den EU-Mitgliedstaaten über die NATO weiterhin zur Verfügung stehen. Eine potenzielle Verschiebung der nuklearen Abschreckungskraft unter ein EU-Dach in der nahen Zukunft erscheint eher unwahrscheinlich. Diese wäre nur plausibel, wenn es den USA nicht gelänge, eine erweiterte Abschreckung in der Euro-Atlantischen Gemeinschaft glaubwürdig zu gewährleisten. Das Vereinigte Königreich würde nicht nur an der NATO beteiligt bleiben, sondern auch an anderen Initiativen wie der von Großbritannien geführten multinationalen Expeditionstruppe (Joint Expeditionary Force, JEF) mit den nordischen Staaten oder der vom französischen Präsidenten Emmanuel Macron neulich gegründeten europäischen Interventionsinitiative (European Intervention Initiative, EI2). Es wird sich jedoch als schwieriger erweisen, die Zusammenarbeit mit der EU außerhalb eines umfassenderen institutionalisierten Rahmens fortzusetzen, die im Szenario eines “Deals” erreichbar wäre.

Gegensätzliche Merkmale der europäischen Verteidigungsinitiativen

Gegensätzliche Merkmale der europäischen Verteidigungsinitiativen

Im Weißbuch vom Juli 2018, wie auch bei anderen Gelegenheiten, äußerte das Vereinigte Königreich sein ausdrückliches Interesse, nach dem Brexit in der Lage zu bleiben, zu den GSVP-Missionen beizutragen und sie zu gestalten. In einem “No Deal”-Szenario bestünde dagegen das Risiko, dass Großbritannien ein Außenseiter bei wichtigen Sicherheitsinitiativen bliebe.

Wenn es zwischen der EU und dem Vereinigten Königreich zu einem Abkommen käme, würde dieser dem Vereinigten Königreich die Möglichkeit eröffnen, auf individueller oder ad-hoc-Basis an der GSVP teilzunehmen. Britischen strategischen Dokumenten zufolge, zielt Großbritannien auf ein Abkommen auf strategischer Ebene und einen umfassenden Rahmen für die Sicherheitszusammenarbeit mit der EU ab, welcher es dem Land ermöglichen könnte, sich nicht nur einzubringen, sondern auch einen gewissen Einfluss auf künftige Debatten über die europäische Sicherheit zu nehmen. Bestehende Partnerschaften zwischen der EU und Drittländern wie Serbien, Norwegen, der Ukraine oder der Schweiz stützen sich auf bilateralen Abkommen und einzelfallbezogene Beiträge. Sie sehen jedoch keine Beteiligung an Entscheidungsstrukturen für die Sicherheit und Verteidigung der EU vor, wie dem Politischen und Sicherheitspolitischen Ausschuss oder dem Rat für Auswärtige Angelegenheiten (Foreign Affairs Committe, FAC).

Bedeutung der britischen Rüstungsindustrie in Europa: Verteidigungsbezogener Unternehmensumsatz als Anteil an der Summe der Umsätze der grossen europäischen Verteidigungsunternehmen (2017, in Prozent).

Bedeutung der britischen Rüstungsindustrie in Europa: Verteidigungsbezogener Unternehmensumsatz als Anteil an der Summe der Umsätze der grossen europäischen Verteidigungsunternehmen (2017, in Prozent).

Wenn das derzeitig ausgearbeitete Abkommen angenommen würde, könnte das Vereinigte Königreich während des Übergangszeitraums von einer informellen Rolle in der GSVP/GASP profitieren, wie in der politischen Erklärung über den Rahmen für die künftigen Beziehungen festgelegt (Art. 92-104). Dies würde dem Vereinigten Königreich viele Möglichkeiten zur Konsultation und Zusammenarbeit bieten.

Einige Kommentatoren haben für eine künftige “Sonderbeziehung” zwischen der EU und dem Vereinigten Königreich plädiert, in der ein spezielles britisches “Opt-In” in die GSVP/GASP einbezogen wird, einschließlich eines Sitzes im FAC, wenn Operationen mit britischem Engagement diskutiert werden. Dies würde bedeuten, dass das Vereinigte Königreich weiterhin zum EU-Sicherheits- und Verteidigungshaushalt beitragen würde. Doch während die meisten EU-Mitgliedstaaten eine weitere Beteiligung des Vereinigten Königreichs an den GSVP-Operationen wahrscheinlich begrüßen würden, erscheint die Teilnahme des Vereinigten Königreichs an formellen EU-Sitzungen sehr unwahrscheinlich, da sie als ein Präzedenzfall für andere Länder, einschließlich der Türkei, angesehen werden könnte.

Abschließend könnte die GSVP in einem Post-Brexit-Regime zum institutionellen Mechanismus werden, der autonome Akteure wie Großbritannien und sogar die transatlantische NATO-Struktur in ein umfassenderes Europäisches Sicherheitssystem integrieren könnte. Trotz seiner schwächeren militärischen Fähigkeiten könnte die EU mit diplomatischer Strategie sowie Handels- und Entwicklungszusammenarbeit Koordinierungsmechanismen für globalen Frieden anbieten, denn in diesem Bereich verfügt die NATO über begrenzte Fähigkeiten. Eine verstärkte EU Rolle sowohl in innerer als auch externer Sicherheit, zusammen mit dem Aufbau neuer Kernkompetenzen (z.B. in Cybersicherheit), könnte als Gegengewicht zu dem begrenzten Engagement der Trump-Regierung dienen und ein erster Schritt in Richtung strategischer Autonomie sein.

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Rückblick: Krieg in der Ostukraine 2014/15 – Invasionsangst, Mobilmachung und Eskalation ab April 2014 (Teil 1/4)

von Dr.Phil. Fritz Kälin, Militärhistoriker, Stab MND. Dieser Artikel wurde zuvor auf dem Blog der OG Panzer veröffentlicht — ich danke dem Autor und der OG Panzer für die Erlaubnis einer Zweitveröffentlichung.

Diese Artikelserie schildert den Kriegsverlauf in der Ostukraine mit Fokus auf die intensivsten Kampfhandlungen der Jahre 2014 und 2015. Grundlage bilden in deutscher und englischer Sprache online verfügbare Ausführungen von Fachleuten und/oder Augenzeugen, wovon die Expertisen von Dr. Phillip A. Karber eine Klasse für sich darstellen. Unparteiische Faktendarstellungen existieren jedoch noch nicht in dem Ausmasse, wie es sich ein (Militär-)Historiker wünschen würde. Allein schon aus sprachlichen Gründen überwiegen in dieser Artikelserie Quellen aus westlicher bzw. eher pro-ukrainischer Sicht. Bei der Quellenauswahl wurde jedoch darauf geachtet, dass trotz erkennbarer Parteilichkeit auch über die favorisierte Seite kritisch berichtetet wurde. Über den gesicherten Ereignisverlauf lässt sich dadurch mehr berichten, als der militärisch Interessierte aus hiesigen Medien und Fachzeitschriften bislang entnehmen konnte — diese Artikelserie will hier nachliefern! Nicht behandelt werden die medial anderweitig ausreichend geschilderten politischen Vorgänge (z.B. Wahlen), das humanitäre Leid und der MH-17-Abschuss.

Nach einem Kampf um den Internationalen Flughafen Donezk im Mai 2014, welcher von den Ukrainischen Streitkräften entschieden wurde, kam es Ende September 2014 trotz eines Waffenstillstandsabkommens zu einem weiteren Schlagabtausch. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt war der Internationale Flughafen der letzte Bereich von Donetsk, welcher noch von den Regierungstruppen gehalten werden konnte und schliesslich Ende Januar 2015 ebenfalls aufgegeben werden musste (Foto: Sergey Loiko).

Nach einem Kampf um den Internationalen Flughafen Donezk im Mai 2014, welcher von den Ukrainischen Streitkräften entschieden wurde, kam es Ende September 2014 trotz eines Waffenstillstandsabkommens zu einem weiteren Schlagabtausch. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt war der Internationale Flughafen der letzte Bereich von Donetsk, welcher noch von den Regierungstruppen gehalten werden konnte und schliesslich Ende Januar 2015 ebenfalls aufgegeben werden musste (Foto: Sergey Loiko).

Vorgeschichte und mögliche geostrategische Hintergründe des Ukraine-Konflikts
Einmal mehr ist in einem befriedet wirkenden Europa entlang einer innergesellschaftlichen Bruchlinie durch geopolitische Kraftproben ein Krieg ausgebrochen. Noch 2012 war die Ukraine (zusammen mit Polen) das Austragungsland einer Fussballeuropameisterschaft. Zwei Jahre später war ihr östlichster Landesteil Schauplatz der intensivsten Kriegshandlungen in Europa seit 1945. Primär innenpolitische und gesellschaftliche Probleme aber auch die Weigerung des damaligen ukrainischen Präsidenten Viktor Janukowitsch ein Assoziierungsabkommen mit der Europäischen Union zu unterzeichnen führten zu den Maidan-Proteste Ende 2013. Im Februar 2014 folgte dann die Krim-Besetzung durch Russland. Schliesslich im März 2014 kam es in der Ostukraine in zahlreichen Städten zur Besetzung von öffentlichen Gebäuden durch schwer bewaffnete Personen, welche die neue pro-westliche Regierung in Kiew ablehnten.

In diesem Konflikt spielen die geostrategischen Interessen internationaler Mächte eine wichtige Rolle. Wie auch das Beispiel des Kaukasuskrieges 2008 bzw. Russlands Einfluss in Südossetien und Abchasien aufzeigten, ist der Kreml gewillt, den Nato-Beitritt weiterer Nachbarländer auch mit gewaltsamen Mitteln zu verhindern. Ein “eingefrorener” Konflikt im Donbass erfüllt diesen Zweck hinsichtlich der Ukraine. Zwar hatte die Ukraine – im Gegensatz zu den westlichen Ländern – infolge des Kaukasuskrieges 2008 einen Reformbedarf für die eigenen Streitkräfte erkannt, die Finanzkrise entzog diesem Ansinnen jedoch die finanzielle Grundlage. Die ukrainischen Streitkräften blieben in Essenz ein unterfinanzierter Überrest ihrer Vorgängerverbände in der Roten Armee. Derweil wurde Russlands Armee anhand der Lehren aus dem kurzen Krieg gegen Georgien reformiert.

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; who rules the World-Island commands the world. — Sir Halford John Mackinder, “Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction“, 1919.

Auf Seite der USA sind zwei Haltungen gegenüber dem eskalierten Ukrainekonflikt vorstellbar, die zueinander jedoch im Widerspruch stehen. Gemäss einer in den USA prominenten strategischen Denkschule (die “Heartland Theorie” von Sir Halford John Mackinder) könnte der Konflikt um die Ukraine – ob beabsichtigt oder nicht – für die USA eine Versicherung darstellen, dass auf absehbare Zeit keine eurasische Interessensgemeinschaft der transatlantischen Sicherheitsarchitektur den Rang abläuft. Allerdings zwingt das verschlechterte Ost-West-Verhältnis die USA gleichzeitig, in Europa wieder mehr militärische Last zu schultern. Dabei hatte die Obama-Administration erst 2012 die Losung “Pivot to Asia” ausgegeben. Der amerikanischen Mehranstrengungen zur See und in der Luft in Ostasien hätte naheliegender Weise einen weiteren Abbau der militärischen Präsenz im scheinbar befriedeten Europa gegenübergestanden. Jedenfalls fällt auf, dass die USA verbal hinter den pro-westlichen Kräften in Kiew stehen, sich jedoch bis Ende 2017 substantieller militärischer Hilfe enthielten.

Die Verhältnisse von Zeit, Kräfte und Raum bei Beginn des Konflikts
Seit dem 13. März 2014 zog Russland bei Manövern rund 90’000 Mann aus dem ganzen Land nahe der Grenze zur Ukraine zusammen, die Hälfte davon Kampftruppen (siehe Graphik unten, sowie Michael Kofman et al., “Lessons from Russia’s Operations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine“, RAND Corporation, 2017, S. 65). Kombiniert mit der Militärpräsenz Russlands auf der Krim und in Transnistrien bedeutet dieser Aufmarsch für Kiew eine strategische (beinahe) Rundumbedrohung. Nach Einschätzung von Clark und Karber stellte dies im Vergleich mit der Mobilisierungskapazität der Ukrainischen Streitkräften eine dreimal zu lange Front dar (Wesley K. Clark und Phillip A. Karber, “Immediate Improvements Needed in Rapidly Implementing ‘Non-­Lethal’ US Military Assistance for Defense of Ukraine“, 08.04.2014, S.1).

Seit dem 13. März 2014 führte Russland mit rund 45'000 Kampftruppen (mit Unterstützungstruppen rund 90'000) militärische Übungen an der Ostgrenze der Ukraine durch, destabilisierte den östlichen Teil des Landes und schürte in Kiew die Angst vor einer bevorstehenden Invasion. Die Karte basiert auf einem Papier, das vom Royal United Services Institute im April 2014 veröffentlicht wurde und aus dem hervorgeht, welche russischen Einheiten mobilisiert wurden und wo sie operierten.

Seit dem 13. März 2014 führte Russland mit rund 45’000 Kampftruppen (mit Unterstützungstruppen rund 90’000) militärische Übungen an der Ostgrenze der Ukraine durch, destabilisierte den östlichen Teil des Landes und schürte in Kiew die Angst vor einer bevorstehenden Invasion. Die Karte basiert auf einem Papier, das vom Royal United Services Institute im April 2014 veröffentlicht wurde und aus dem hervorgeht, welche russischen Einheiten mobilisiert wurden und wo sie operierten.

Bei Kriegsbeginn umfassten die Ukrainischen Streitkräften rund 130’000 aktive Soldaten, davon rund 60% Wehrpflichtige (die Wehrpflicht wurde 2013 abgeschafft). Aus den 15 Brigaden konnten jedoch höchstens 6’000 kampfbereite Truppen generiert werden. Gemäss der “Military Balance” von 2014 waren etwas mehr als 200 Kampfflugzeuge kampftauglich. Trotzdem vollzog die Ukraine im März 2014 die grösste Mobilmachung und Truppenverschiebung in Mittel- und Osteuropa seit dem Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Insbesondere im Norden bildeten die Ukrainischen Streitkräften Gegenkonzentrationen zu den russischen Aufmärschen. Dazu musste das Gros aus ihrer aus der Sowjetzeit geerbten Infrastruktur westlich des Dnjepr nach Osten disloziert werden. Eine Hypothese lautet, dass Moskau angesichts dieses ukrainischen Kraftaktes einer eher subversiven Kampagne im Donbass den Vorzug gegenüber einer direkten Grossinvasion gab. Erst allmählich wagte es Kiew, Kräfte aus der eigenen Gegenkonzentration im Norden für Operationen im Donbass freizugeben. Dadurch verlor Kiew die Kontrolle über viele Städte im östlichsten Landesteil. Laut Karber vermochten die staatlichen Ordnungsorgane nicht so rasch und konsequent gegen die militanten Häuserbesetzer im Donbass vorzugehen, wie sie es gewollt und gekonnt hätten. Die Regierung habe sich lieber auf westliche Versicherungen verlassen, dass die Krise diplomatisch entschärft werden würde (Phillip Karber, “The Russian Military Forum: Russia’s Hybrid War Campaign: Implications for Ukraine and Beyond“, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2015, 18′-23′).

In den umkämpften ostukrainischen Oblasten Donezk und Luhansk leben gegen sieben Millionen Menschen. Zu den grössten Städten in den beiden Oblasten gehören Donezk, Mariupol, Luhansk, Makijiwka, Horliwka, Kramatorsk, Sjewjerodonezk und Slowjansk (alle haben mehr als 100’000 Einwohner). Die von Separatisten kontrollierten Teile der Ostukraine entsprechen in der Fläche und Einwohnerzahl grob den Dimensionen des Schweizer Mittellands. Das Städtedreieck Mariupol – Donezk – Luhansk passt auf der Schweizer Karte auf die Räume Genf – Nordwestschweiz – Zürich West.

Auch im 21. Jahrhundert behindert in der Ukraine Schlamm in den Frühlings- und Herbstmonaten die Mobilität von Truppen. Das deckungsarme Steppengelände bietet für einen Verteidiger kaum ideales Gelände. Umso bedeutsamer müsste die Beherrschung des Luftraumes sein. Doch auch wenn die Luftkriegsmittel fast ausschliesslich auf Seiten des Ukrainischen Staates liegen, hat dieser nach gängiger Logik entscheidende Trumpf Kiews nicht gestochen. Darauf wird der vierte Teil dieser Artikelserie näher eingehen.

Ukrainische Soldaten und pro-russische Demonstranten nahe Kramatorsk, Mitte April 2014.

Ukrainische Soldaten und pro-russische Demonstranten nahe Kramatorsk, Mitte April 2014.

Ukrainische “ATO”-Rückeroberungskampagne April – August 2014
Mitte April 2014 gab die damalige Regierung in Kiew grünes Licht für eine sogenannte “Antiterror-Operation” gegen die Separatisten im Donbass. Im Folgenden soll dafür die in der Ukraine gebräuchliche, knappe Abkürzung “ATO” verwendet werden, auch wenn die Bezeichnung gemessen an der Intensität der Kämpfe eine Untertreibung darstellt. Diese vom Innenministerium geführte Operation sollte die Separatisten zuerst aus den Gegenden verdrängen, in denen sie kaum Rückhalt in der Bevölkerung fanden. Das restliche verlorene Gebiet im Donbass sollte dann vom angrenzenden Russland isoliert und anschliessend zwischen Donezk und Luhansk gespalten werden. Für die ATO sollen insgesamt zwölf Brigaden und mehr als 25 selbständige Bataillone eingesetzt worden sein. Die Stärke der Separatisten lässt sich schwerlich beziffern, aber insgesamt dürften sie den Regierungskräften bis in den August hinein militärisch klar unterlegen gewesen sein.

Kaum gestartet, wurde die ATO wegen der Sorge um die russischen Truppenkonzentrationen im russischen Grenzgebiet unterbrochen und erst am 22. April wieder fortgesetzt (“Senior Security Official: Anti-Terror Operation Suspended as Russian Troops Amass on Border“, Kyiv Post, 24.04.2014). Je weiter die ukrainischen Truppen sich in die Ostukraine hineinwagten, desto abweisender war die lokale Bevölkerung eingestellt. Zuweilen behinderten Zivilpersonen die Truppenbewegungen aktiv. Am 16. April sollen den ukrainischen Luftlandetruppen sogar sechs gepanzerte Fahrzeuge von Separatisten bzw. aufgebrachten Zivilisten abgenommen worden sein (siehe auch: Andrew E. Kramer, “Ukraine Push Against Rebels Grinds to Halt“, The New York Times, 16.04.2014). Bewaffnete Aufständische hatten sich insbesondere in den Städten und auf Barrikaden entlang der Zufahrtsstrassen postiert.

Im Mai/Juni gerieten die ukrainischen Sicherheitskräfte bei ihren Vorstössen öfters in Hinterhalte, ab Juni gelangte Kriegsgerät aus russischen Armeebeständen zu den Separatisten und die Ukrainischen Luftstreitkräften erlitten empfindliche Verluste. Trotz aller Schwierigkeiten schien die ATO im Juli/August ihre Ziele allmählich zu erreichen (siehe Video unten).

Per Flugzeug und Helikopter herangeführte Luftlandetruppen behaupteten bereits seit Mitte April in der Region die Flugplätze Kramatorsk, Luhansk und Donezk. Deren Versorgung erfolgte grösstenteils auf dem Luftweg. Am 28. Juni wurden dafür sogar Suchoi Su-25 Frogfoot Bodenkampfflugzeuge eingesetzt (Alexander Mladenov, “Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ Units In Combat“, Osprey Combat Aircraft, Band 109, Bloomsbury Publishing, 20.04.2015, S.89). Die meisten ihrer aus mittlerer Höhe abgeworfenen improvisierten Fallschirmcontainer drifteten jedoch mit dem Wind ins Rebellengebiet. Dieser Versuch war mehr ein Ausdruck von Verzweiflung als von Kreativität und ein Symptom für den damals zunehmend ungleichen Kampf um die dritte Dimension.

Separatisten hatten am 16. April die beim Flugfeld Kramatorsk gelegene Stadt Slowjansk unter ihre Kontrolle gebracht. Die Rückeroberung gelang den Ukrainern Anfang Juli geradezu mustergültig. 60 Teams ukrainischer Spezialeinheiten infiltrierten die Stadt und besetzten das Stadtzentrum. Die dadurch überraschten Separatisten traten den Rückzug nach Südosten an. Auf der 50 Kilometer langen Strecke wartete die ukrainischen 95. Luftlandebrigade auf sie. Der Rückzug der Separatisten wurde zur panischen Flucht unter Zurücklassung von viel Material (Sebastien Roblin, “Airborne Fighting Vehicles Rolled Through Hell in Eastern Ukraine“, War Is Boring, 22.07.2017). Doch die ukrainischen Kräfte waren vom Erfolg selbst so überrascht, dass sie – auch mangels Kräften – weder den Rückzug der Separatisten komplett unterbinden, noch rasch nachstossen konnten. Der Erfolg bei Slowjansk, und damit einhergehend die definitive Behauptung des Flugfelds bei Kramtorsk, beschränkte sich dadurch auf die taktische Ebene.

Die 95. Luftlandebrigade zeigte eine weitere eindrückliche Leistung im frühen August. Im wahrscheinlich längsten “Raid” der Militärgeschichte legte sie, durch mechanisierte Elemente verstärkt, insgesamt 450 Kilometer hinter feindlichen Linien zurück. Abgeschnittene ukrainische Truppenteile im östlichen Grenzraum konnten so entsetzt werden. Auf der Vorbeifahrt wurden auch die bedrängten Verteidiger des Flughafens bei Luhansk versorgt und das Rebellengebiet vorübergehend durchschnitten (The Ellis Group, “21st Century Maneuver“, Marine Corps Gazette 101, Nr. 2, 28.02.2017).

Der Einsatz ukrainischer Feuerkraft
Die ukrainischen Streitkräfte sollen aus Rücksicht auf die Zivilbevölkerung weitgehend auf den Einsatz schwere Waffen wie z.B. Artillerie verzichtet haben. Dies bedeutet jedoch nicht, dass komplett auf schwere Waffen verzichtet wurde: Gegen Ende April setzten die Ukrainischen Streitkräfte aus 2S9 Nona-S Selbstfahrlafetten 120mm Mörsergranaten gegen Stellungen der Separatisten ein, was einer der ersten Einsätze der Artillerie in diesem Konflikt darstellte. Auch in und um Slowjansk wurde im Juni durch die Ukrainischen Streitkräfte Artillerie eingesetzt (siehe auch: Joe Pappalardo, “The Right (and Wrong) Way to Use Artillery: Ukraine Edition“, Popular Mechanics, 18.09.2014). Ebenfalls im Juni setzten die Ukrainischen Luftstreitkräfte Suchoi Su-25 Bodenkampfflugzeuge ein, um Ziele in Luhansk, Slowjansk und Kramatorsk mit S-8 Raketen zu bekämpfen, was zu Kollateralschäden und zivilen Opfern führte (Mladenov, S.89).

Karber vertritt die Ansicht, dass ein weitgehender Verzicht auf überlegene Feuerkraft die Durchführung der Operation stark verzögerte, was wiederum Russland mehr Zeit gab, seine regulären Streitkräfte in Stellung zu bringen, auch wenn die russische Armee bereits seit März/April für ein direktes Eingreifen bereitstand (Phillip A. Karber, “‘Lessons Learned’ from the Russo-Ukrainian War“, The Potomac Foundation, 08.07.2015, S.36). Eine beklemmende Widersprüchlichkeit zwischen politisch-humanitären Motiven (Rücksicht auf die Zivilbevölkerung), militärischen Notwendigkeiten (Schutz der eigenen Truppen) sowie den gesamtstrategischen Zielen (möglichst rasche Isolierung der Separatisten von russischer Hilfe) lässt sich nicht bestreiten, zumal Kiew bald die Kontrolle darüber entglitt, mit welcher Intensität die Kämpfe ausgetragen wurden — mehr dazu im zweiten Teil.

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Die ergiebigste Informationsquelle dieser Artikelserie
Dr. Phillip A. Karber ist ein ehemaliger US-Marine und früherer Strategieberater des US-Verteidigungsministers Caspar Weinberger. Mit US-General Donn A. Starry und dem U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command erarbeitete er die “Lessons Learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War”. Heute ist er u.a. Präsident der Potomac Foundation. Vom März 2014 bis Juni 2015 weilte er regelmässig in der Ukraine. Darüber erstattete er dem US-Kongress mehrfach Bericht. Er traf Minister und Generäle in Kiew und besuchte Truppen an der umkämpften Front. Seine Frontbesuche heben ihn von den anderen ausländischen Experten ab, auch wenn diese zu ähnlichen Schlüssen wie Karber gelangen. Bei Lebedyn (nicht an der “Donbass-Front”, sondern nordwestlich von Charkow, mindestens 15 km von der Grenze entfernt) wurde er durch russischen Raketenbeschuss verletzt. Seine persönlichen Beobachtungen hielt er 2015 in den “‘Lessons Learned’ from the Russo-Ukrainian War” für die Potomac Foundation fest. Auf Youtube finden sich dazu mehrere öffentliche Vorträge von ihm (beispielsweise beim Modern War Institute oder beim Institute of World Politics).

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New Zealand’s terrorist attack and the scars of the Global War on Terror

by Sandra Ivanov. She is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She was formerly a policy advisor in the New Zealand public service and now primarily works in the development sector. You can connect with and follow her updates on Twitter.

The city of Christchurch in New Zealand has been devastated by tragedies of the natural kind, most notably in February 2011 when an earthquake resulted in 185 deaths and leaving thousands of people injured and without homes. Now, on March 15, 2019, an unprecedented event in New Zealand’s history has affected the people of Christchurch. 50 people were killed in two mosques during the afternoon Friday prayer by a self-proclaimed “eco-fascist” citing “revenge on the [..] foreign invaders in European lands” as motivation for his actions (see also Sarah Manavis, “Eco-Fascism: The Ideology Marrying Environmentalism and White Supremacy Thriving Online“, New Statesman, September 21, 2018). For the first time in New Zealand’s history, the national security threat level was switched from low to high. This is a current and unfolding story, however, what can be pieced together is the continued impacts of the Global War on Terror, its perpetuated narrative in world politics, and how domestic responses are formed based on this narrative.

A women holds a sign reading "No more white Terrorism" at a rally close to Finsbury Park Mosque in London, UK on March 15, 2019. The rally was organised by Stand up to Racism in response to the recent shooting in New Zealand. (Photo: Claire Doherty).

A women holds a sign reading “No more white Terrorism” at a rally close to Finsbury Park Mosque in London, UK on March 15, 2019. The rally was organised by Stand up to Racism in response to the recent shooting in New Zealand. (Photo: Claire Doherty).

The event: “One of New Zealand’s darkest days”
50 people were killed and 48 injured after two terrorist attacks took place at Linwood Masjid Mosque and Masjid Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. The perpetrator, an Australian man named Brenton Tarrant, walked into the central mosque – Masjid Al Noor – carrying a semi-automatic gun, killing 42 people at the scene. Tarrant live-streamed the event on social media and disseminated a “manifesto” outlining his motives. Another attack was carried out at Linwood Masjid, leaving seven dead at the scene. One persons later died in hospital.

New Zealand Police apprehended Tarrant 36 minutes after the first emergency call was made, as well as taking two more suspects into custody. However, at this stage the Police consider Tarrant to be a lone gunman responsible for the attack. The central mosque had at least 300 people inside at the time. There were also two improvised explosive devices attached to a vehicle that were made safe by the New Zealand Defence Force, and weapons were found near both mosques. Police blocked key roads, and all schools in Christchurch were put under lockdown for several hours, as well as workplaces in the surrounding areas. On the morning of March 16, Tarrant appeared in court and was charged with one count of murder, with the New Zealand Police stating that more charges were likely to come. His next appearance will be on April 5 in the High Court.

The perpetrator’s manifesto, and the effects of the Global War on Terror
In Tarrant’s 74-page manifesto, answering his own question to why he targeted Muslims, it was because “they are the most despised group of invaders in the West, attacking them receives the greatest level of support“. This statement alone reveals decades of entrenched rhetoric and perpetuated imagery instituted by the Global War on Terror – a continued broad brush application of “radical Islam” as the enemy. Ever since the attack on 9/11, international counterterrorism policies have promoted a narrow view of perpetrators that conduct acts of terrorism, pitted in a battle of “us versus them”, with Western countries attempting to salvage their “values” through increased security measures.

While the government claims that its counter-terrorism strategies target all forms of extremism, and do not target specific individuals or groups, it is clear that the Prevent strategy centres on Muslims in the way that it frames the threat of extremism and terrorism. Added to this, the allocation of Prevent funding, which was based on the number of Muslims in a local authority. This explicit targeting demonstrates that Islamophobia is central in shaping how the government (and wider society) define and construct extremism and terrorism as solely Islamic problems. — Fahid Qurashi, “Prevent Gives People Permission to Hate Muslims – It Has No Place in Schools“, The Guardian, April 4, 2016.

Worldwide, countries have implemented counterterrorism policies which have created a scenario of isolating certain communities in the hope of thwarting a future terrorist attack. The United Kingdom is infamous for their CONTEST strategy, and its workstream known as “Prevent”, where surveillance has specifically targeted Muslim communities, framing the Global War on Terror as an “Islamic threat“.

In the wake of the attacks in Paris in 2015, French President François Hollande took a hard-line approach, and through the rhetoric of his Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, proclaimed these acts as a battle of identity and culture. The approach to “deradicalisation” in this case has been referred to by a sociologist as “understanding individuals who turn against their own society, coming from the Anglo-Saxon world”, and where in France this has transformed into “authorities treat[ing] the ideology itself as a form of violence”.

This has also been demonstrated by France instituting state of emergency powers in 2015, extending these measures six times until they were officially lifted in 2017. However in a report revealed by Amnesty International, these powers have now become embedded into ordinary French legislation, and that these counterterrorism measures are often discriminatory and restrict fundamental human rights. Tarrant, in his manifesto, wrote how his journey through France was a turning point in him deciding to plan his own attack.

It also cannot be missed that most news broadcasters provided round the clock coverage of the attack in Paris, whilst neglecting to show the terrorist attacks by ISIS in Lebanon and Iraq which occurred the day before. The global outcry and sympathy for Paris was never received for the victims in Lebanon or Iraq. The Global War on Terror continues to live within the selective nature of the media, choosing which tragedies are more important, and which lives matter more.

In the United States, the National Strategy for Counterterrorism was launched by US-President Trump’s administration last year, with a clear continuation and adaptation from the Bush and Obama administrations. Since the Global War on Terror, these strategies have almost exclusively focused on “American and foreign-born jihadists, overshadowing right-wing extremism as a legitimate national-security threat“.

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has reported that 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26 percent. — Janet Reitman, “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.“, The New York Times Magazine, November 3, 2018.

However these facts and realities have not curbed US-President Trump’s rhetoric from being broadcasted around the globe – consistently linking the terms “terrorism”, “immigration”, and “Islamic radicalism” together. Tarrant mentions Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity” in his manifesto.

It has been 18 years since the attack on 9/11 and since the Global War on Terror was instigated, and new movies and television series’ continue to be made with Muslims pitted as the villains in storylines. Magazines, newspapers and news broadcasts continue to analyse the “radical Islamic terrorist” as its own archetype, and are all too quick to label a crime potentially committed by a person of an ethnic minority background as an act of terrorism. Without challenging the rise in violent acts perpetrated by right-wing or white supremacy extremism, policies will continue to normalise the idea of the “other”, and bypass addressing the root causes of why these types of violence continue to occur.

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" with body armor and combat weapons at the unlawful "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 (Photo: Chip Somodevilla).

White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the “alt-right” with body armor and combat weapons at the unlawful “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 (Photo: Chip Somodevilla).

New Zealand’s approach to terrorism and what it might have missed
In response to the 9/11 attacks, and subsequent international obligations to put in place legislation against terrorism, New Zealand enacted the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 (TSA). An attempt to apply the measures prescribed in the TSA were made in 2007, involving an activist group suspected of carrying out guerrilla and military-style training for a wider purpose of creating an independent state (referred to as “Operation Eight“). However, when the case was examined, the legislation was deemed “unnecessarily complex, incoherent, and, as a result, almost impossible to apply to the domestic circumstances observed by the Police”. The Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 has not been used on any individual cases, and New Zealand relies on criminal legislation to deal with terrorist-related offences. Subsequent pieces of legislation have since been created and linked to preventing terrorism, such as the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2003, the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009, the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, and the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill 2014, among others.

In July 2018, a visit from the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate took place in New Zealand to follow up on an initial assessment made in 2009 on the implementation of terrorism-related Security Council resolutions. Citing general measures implemented for countering potential threats, the Committee “welcome[ed] New Zealand’s development of a draft national counter-terrorism strategy“. In November 2018, the Government stated it was reviewing current counterterrorism legislation, and recognised that the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 was unworkable and that authorities maintain reluctant to use the legislation.

New Zealand invests considerably in resourcing the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), the Government Communications Security Bureau, and its membership in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. In 2016, the New Zealand Government invested $178.7 million over four years, mentioning that this investment allowed “significant staff recruitment and further extends the NZSIS’s ability to respond to the threat from foreign terrorist fighters”. However, Tarrant was not known to authorities in New Zealand or Australia. He did not have a criminal record and was not on any terrorist watch-list. This poses a wider question on the effectiveness of security apparatuses, counterterrorism measures, and the continuing investment in the Global War on Terror in general. Several security experts in New Zealand have commented on the missing link in it’s strategic approach:

Security analyst Paul Buchanan has stated that the “bulk of intelligence-gathering and efforts at prevention when it comes to terrorism have been directed at the Islamic community of New Zealand”, meaning that “resources were not directed towards right-wing extremists”.

On the contrary, counterterrorism expert John Battersby stated that authorities “have been looking at extremism as a problem, and whatever form that may take” noting “individual attackers were always difficult to prevent”.

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service’s most recent annual report revealed that “the majority of leads in the 2017-2018 time period were linked to ISIS”, and that the intelligence community has difficulties “with stopping attackers who plan in a short timeframe”.

Meanwhile Paul Spoonley, an expert in right-wing movements in New Zealand, weighs in by mentioning that “since 9/11 there’s been this big international conspiracy theory that Muslims are the major threat, and they [right-wing extremists] think they’re undermining our culture and identity and also physically attacking us so we’ve got to fight back”.

Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning has urged that the right questions need to be asked, like “why these attackers were not on the radar and why the community, which has been under the most suspicion, are the victims of this”. The question of where New Zealand’s counterterrorist efforts were focused on will indeed be asked in the coming weeks.

What next?
As analyses are made, and investigations continue over the events and what could have been done, what is shocking for New Zealand is that the massacre of 50 people in one day has trumped the total number of murders in the country in a year. Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has pledged to make a change to the country’s gun laws as the first point of response to the tragedy.

Counterterrorism responses must promote inclusion and tolerance, and should build on the psychological, social, and cultural capacities of individuals and communities to sustain their well-being, and respond to extremist influence. At the same time, responses must remain fair and free from bias in their implementation. This is a difficult balance act to not further exacerbate inequalities and ensure citizens are empowered to interact with responses and not be alienated by them.

A message card is placed at a collection of flowers left at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Saturday.

A message card is placed at a collection of flowers left at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Saturday.

It has taken 18 years of consistent political messaging and narratives to entrench the modern-day perception of a terrorist. With many nations concentrating on military and security investments to counter the terrorist threat, it is time to redirect those investments back into resources critical to support the well-being of the citizens that nations are trying to protect. Creating a counter-narrative to curb terrorism requires robust and accessible institutions in the areas of education, social welfare, and health so that adequate support and safety can be enjoyed by citizens.

The counter-narrative will equally be a long-term battle that needs to be systematically implemented in our societies – such as including anti-racism education in school curriculums, establishing opportunities for adult education focusing on mediation and problem-solving techniques to promote community-based resolutions, and the active inclusion of marginalised communities in meaningful dialogue and participation as active citizens.

There are also many lessons that can be learned from Scandinavian countries that have successfully implemented programmes and strategies targeting right-wing extremism and white supremacy movements. These lessons include responses being designed as long-term approaches to tolerance building, having a focus on providing opportunities to target groups (such as young people) instead of trying to foster a change in their ideology, utilising local insights and knowledge to identify potential threats, and investment into tailored approaches that do not isolate or paint a broad brush on different groups in society.

On an individual level, we are only victims if we let terrorism influence us, and in the end politics and power is shaped by us, the citizens of nations. The people of Christchurch and New Zealand have already shown their resilience in the face of this terrorist attack, fighting fear with “food and talk“, and organising peaceful vigils across the nation. The world will be watching New Zealand as it grapples with the consequences of this event, and it has a chance to be a leader in promoting community cohesion and non-violent solutions to terrorism.

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A Battle Brews Before 2019 NATO Summit

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.

Sorgt für Schäden und Entfremdung bei den Beziehungen zu Europa: US-Präsident Donald Trump am Nato-Gipfel in Brüssel (2018).

Sorgt für Schäden und Entfremdung bei den Beziehungen zu Europa: US-Präsident Donald Trump am Nato-Gipfel in Brüssel (2018).

A battle seems to be brewing ahead of this year’s NATO Summit, expected to be hosted by the United Kingdom in London this December to mark the Alliance’s 70th anniversary, and as a Minister-level meeting of the North Atlantic Council is about to be held in Brussels. The foundations for this conflict reach back to the 2006 NATO Summit – held in Riga, Latvia – at which the then 26 member states agreed to commit a minimum of 2% of their respective Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) to defence spending. Since his election, US-President Donald Trump has emphasized the importance of this 2% commitment and scolded European allies who have consistently fallen short. However, the mid-2018 formation of a new coalition government in Italy, comprised of the Five Star Movement and the “Lega Nord“, promises considerable pushback on that 2% target.

Specifically, Italy’s new Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta has argued that non-military investments should be counted toward the targeted levels of defence spending, encompassing infrastructure projects and cyber-security. It is difficult to discern exactly how far Trenta would expand the definition of defence spending, though. For example, would a fibre-optic cable linking remote communities in Canada’s North to high-speed Internet be considered sufficiently integral to Canadian cyber-security that it would qualify as part of that country’s total non-military defence spending? Or would only spending on initiatives like the Norwegian Cyber Defence Force, an existing branch of the Norwegian Armed Forces, be deemed relevant, and, if such a narrow definition were to be adopted, how would this represent any meaningful change in how NATO defence spending is calculated?

Defence expenditure as a share of GDP (%)

Defence expenditure as a share of GDP (%) — Source: NATO, “Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2011-2018)“, March 14, 2019.

Yet this is not the first time questions have been raised by member states regarding the validity of the 2% target and how it is calculated. At the 2014 NATO Summit, both Canada and Germany contended that the 2% target is purely “aspirational” and that the quality of defence spending and a given member state’s contributions to the Alliance should be weighted more heavily than what share of that state’s GDP is devoted each year to defence spending. For example, for those member states with mandatory military service, such as Greece and Turkey, it might be relatively easy to approach or even meet the 2% target while still having only minimal resources available to commit to the Alliance’s collective defence. Meanwhile, despite consistently falling far short of the 2% target, Germany was one of the largest contributors to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deployed to Afghanistan and the second largest contributor to NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR).

However, the Canadian and German protest was geared more so toward debunking the 2% target than offering a more inclusive formula for determining the extent of a member state’s contributions to the Alliance. As such, if Italy hopes to change opinions among fellow members ahead of the London Summit, a more detailed alternative should be offered, as the 2014 stalemate did little to deter President Trump from threatening in 2018 to withdraw the US from the Washington Treaty, a considerable escalation from past laments that the US bears a disproportionate share of the costs for trans-Atlantic security. Such an alternative framework could highlight the direct contributions of individual member states to NATO projects or NATO-related initiatives, such as hosting NATO Centres of Excellence (COEs) or the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEW&C Force). Italy could certainly benefit from such a revised formula, as the country is a contributor to the NAEW&C Force, hosts two accredited NATO COEs (the Modeling and Simulation COE in Rome and the Stability Policing COE in Vicenza), and is a financial contributor to seven other NATO COEs.

Another benchmark - that countries should spend at least 20% of their defence budget on equipment - is perhaps more meaningful.

Another benchmark – that countries should spend at least 20% of their defence budget on equipment – is perhaps more meaningful. — Source: NATO, “Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2011-2018)“, March 14, 2019.

Italy might find widespread support for this or some other proposal to revise the way contributions are measured, as only seven member states met the 2% target in 2018: the US, Greece, the UK, Estonia, Poalnd, Latvia and Lithuania. However, the vast majority of member states, as indicated in the chart, will find themselves in very much the same position as Italy: struggling to provide for the needs of an aging population amid a global economic slowdown, while falling short of the 2% target on defence spending. The future of the Alliance, which has provided peace and security for the trans-Atlantic over almost 70 years, might well depend on what Trenta and her colleagues can hash out in Brussels and the following few months.

More information
Patrick Truffer, “NATO & Trump: relationship status – complicated“,, June 13, 2017.

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A long way: Russian military reform – Part 1

by Patrick Truffer (originally published in German). He has been working in the Swiss Armed Forces for more than 15 years, holds a bachelor’s degree in public affairs from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), and a master’s degree in international relations from the Free University of Berlin.

Reforms are painful processes, especially within risk-averse, complex, highly hierarchical and institutionalized organizations. In these organizations, standard procedures define work and problem-solving, especially in an environment of uncertainty. The individual is trained, rewarded, and promoted according to a defined system – they are educated to perform tasks in a particular way, and as soon as that person reaches a leadership role, they will also educate their subordinates. Work processes become so highly institutionalized in an organization that they stick around even after they lose their practicality and are only gotten rid of with massive resistance. A good example of this is the longevity of mounted cavalry in Western forces. In his book “The Sources of Military Doctrine“, Barry Posen, Professor of Political Science and Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, describes two conditions under which military organizations are prepared to undertake a fundamental reform: when civilian influences outside the military organization enforce it (Politics, society, lack of staff or finances, etc.) or after a defeat (Posen, p. 31f, 44).

Swiss Cavalry Squadron 1972, a veteran traditional unit of the Swiss Army, parading here in uniform from 1972. When in 1972 the Swiss army dissolved its last 18 dragoons squadrons, the last real cavalry in Europe ended.

Swiss Cavalry Squadron 1972, a veteran traditional unit of the Swiss Army, parading here in uniform from 1972. When in 1972 the Swiss army dissolved its last 18 dragoons squadrons, the last real cavalry in Europe ended.

The Russian Armed Forces also had to learn that reforms are painful processes. Formally founded on May 7, 1992, it was an ideological continuation of the Soviet armed forces since personnel and material came from the Red Army (Carolina Vendil Pallin, “Russian Military Reform: A Failed Exercise in Defence Decision Making“, Routledge, 2008, p. 51). Although there were several attempts to reform the Russian Armed Forces comprehensively, it was not seriously undertaken until about 16 years later. In this way, the Russian Armed Forces are providing an example of how high the pressure for the implementation of comprehensive reform must be. The associated financial and time expenditure is immense. At the same time, Russian forces are showing what can be achieved within ten years.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the factors driving Russian military reform, how the capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces have changed in the last ten years, and how they could change through 2030, based on the latest state armaments program.

Consolidation phase after the end of the Cold War

[…] the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself. Individual savings were depreciated, and old ideals destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or reformed carelessly. – Russian President Vladimir Putin, 2005, during its annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc posed a demanding challenge for the Russian Armed Forces. As a matter of doctrine, the Soviet Union put its emphasis on territorial defense against an external, state opponent, which could be conventionally engaged by a mass army. Soviet commanders were focused on high weapon and squad strength, but hardly on technology and mobility (Alexei G. Arbatov, “Military Reform in Russia: Dilemmas, Obstacles, and Prospects“, International Security, vol 22, no. 4, April 1998, p. 99).

For financial and demographic reasons, Russia was unable to sustain such a mass army after the end of the Cold War. Of the approximately 3.4 million Soviet soldiers, about 2.7 million went into the Russian Armed Forces, but this number was cut to around one million by 1999. At the same time, the Russian Armed Forces were under immense financial and social pressure. While at least 15% of Soviet GDP was still earmarked for military purposes during the Cold War, spending on Russian forces in 1999 was still around 3% of the GDP that had shrunk by three quarters. The lack of financial resources, a precarious economic situation, and the consensus among Russian politicians that the US and NATO would pose no military threat made the Russian generals’ efforts to receive a higher share of the state spending budget harder.

Statistics on some essential systems of the Russian Armed Forces (click on the image to enlarge).

Statistics on some essential systems of the Russian Armed Forces (click on the image to enlarge).

However, the situation changed fundamentally in 1999. Not only did government revenues rise on account of rising global commodity prices, but several international developments led to a long-term reversal of Russia’s integration efforts into the Western world order and to a changed perception of threats. NATO’s enlargement to the east with the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, as well as the bombing of Yugoslavia within the NATO operation “Allied Force” 12 days later, led Russia to a sustained loss of confidence in the long-term intentions of the USA. Russia was culturally, religiously, and militarily linked to Yugoslavia. Not only had Russia tried to prevent NATO military intervention in the UN Security Council, but the NATO operation pointedly demonstrated to Russia the effectiveness of conventional precision weapons, and thus the Russian armed forces capability gaps. However, that is not all: with the “continuing openness to the accession of new members”, NATO intended to continue its expansive East European strategy. From the Russian perspective, the additional provision of “out-of-area” operations in the new Strategic Concept of April 1999 transformed the North Atlantic Defense Alliance into an offensive military security instrument for the US and its allies.

The Zapad exercise, held in June 1999, was not only the largest after 1985 but a political signal to the US and NATO. The scenario was a fictional NATO offensive against Kaliningrad and Belarus. The imminent defeat of Russia over the conventionally superior enemy was responded to towards the end of the exercise with the fictitious use of nuclear weapons in Central Europe and on the US West Coast (Pallin, p. 114). Strategically, this was an “escalation to de-escalate”, whereby an overwhelming enemy with weapons of mass destruction and/or conventional weapons should be forced to surrender with a locally limited nuclear strike. NATO already pursued this strategic approach during the Cold War against the Soviet Union, which was conventionally superior on the European continent. This approach eventually flowed into Russian military doctrine in 2000 (Matthew Kroenig, “The Renewed Russian Nuclear Threat and NATO Nuclear Deterrence Posture“, Issue Brief, Atlantic Council, February 2016).

In September 1995, a series of reported leaks – allegedly approved by the then Russian Defence Minister Pavel Grachev – discussed possible Russian retaliatory nuclear countermeasures to NATO expansion, including the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in western Russia, Belarus and aboard ships in the Baltic Fleet. The war of words over conventional and nuclear deployments escalated by early October 1995, when Nezavisimaya Gazeta published a map (see above) — allegedly originating from the Russian Ministry of Defence — depicting a Russian nuclear strike on the Czech Republic and Poland, coupled with a joint conventional offensive on the Baltic States. The accompanying article quoted sources in the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff as stating that, in the event NATO expands to the Czech Republic and Poland and nuclear weapons are deployed in those states, Russia would target them with nuclear weapons and redeploy large-scale conventional forces to Belarus. (Source: Peter Szyszlo, “Countering NATO Expansion: A Case Study of Belarus-Russia Rapprochement“, NATO Research Fellowship 2001-2003, June 2003, p. 9f).

The reality, however, pointed to a domestic threat to the South from which the Russian forces were unprepared. Soviet-era training, equipment, and procedures proved wholly inadequate during the First Chechen War between the end of 1994 and the autumn of 1996. During a series of apartment bombings carried out by Chechen separatists in early September 1999, 239 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured. Until the end of the Second Chechen War in 2009, there were repeated publicized violent attacks by Chechen separatists in Russia. Examples include the Moscow theater hostage crisis in October 2002 when some 850 people were taken hostage in the Dubrovka Theater. At least 170 people were killed during the rescue. Another example is the Beslan school siege in September 2004 when some 1,100 people (including 777 children) were taken hostage. The storming of the school was supported by several T-72B main battle tanks, BTR-80 armored infantry fighting vehicles, and combat helicopters. Both the BTR-80 14.5mm Vladimirov KPW machine gun as well as the T-72B 125mm cannon fired on the school. The casualties were correspondingly high: 334 dead (Kim Murphy, “Aching To Know“, Los Angeles Times, 27.08.2005). Not only did these new types of threats require a different military structure, operations management, and tactics, but also other equipment, more technology, more precision weapons, and greater mobility. Nevertheless, the generals successfully ran opposition against a comprehensive reform. Neither was the political and social pressure high enough nor were the necessary financial means available. This did not change abruptly, even after 1999, because despite the higher budget, most of the available funds flowed into maintenance, wage expenditure and social benefits rather than research, development, and armaments until the 2000s (Mike Bowker and Cameron Ross, “Russia After the Cold War“, Routledge, 2000, p. 223ff). The lack of investment in the defense industry and the fact that strategically essential parts of it were in Ukraine, had a noticeable effect on the development of new weapon systems, which are often excitedly announced but cannot be produced in the desired quantities.

The semi-submerged submarine hunter “Slawny” (left) on December 22, 1994. It lies in the port of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad, one of only two remaining bases of the once proud Soviet fleet.

Despite opposition from some generals, political pressure in a period of consolidation until 2003 has resulted in the decommissioning of numerous Soviet weapon systems. These systems were technologically outdated, too expensive to maintain, numerically far too large and had no use in national crisis management. The First Chechen War shaped the focus on domestic crisis intervention, and from 1999 onwards – as compensation for the lack of modern conventional systems – the emphasis was on preserving the strategic nuclear arsenal. The Strategic Missile Troops was the only military branch of the Russian Armed Forces, which was almost wholly staffed, had a high combat readiness as well as command and control capabilities (Arbatov, “Military Reform in Russia”, 123). As of 1999, the SS-27 Topol-M (mobile ICBM, non-MIRV) stocks were steadily expanded, from 2010, the RS-24 Yars (ICBM, MIRV) was introduced. In addition, Russia purchased 3 Tupolev Tu-95 Bear and 8 Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack (strategic bombers) from Ukraine in 1999 and 2000, respectively, and began modernizing its existing strategic fleet (“Russia”, The Military Balance, vol. 100, 2000, p. 117).

The 2008 Russo-Georgian War and the Serdyukov reform

Since taking office in January 2004, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had been unsuccessfully trying to politically reintegrate the renegade Georgian region of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and, starting in 2005, considered using military means when necessary. When the Georgian forces bombarded the secessionists in the southern Ossetian city of Tskhinvali with artillery during the night of August 8, 2008, Saakashvili expected US support to prevent Russian counteraction (Heidi Tagliavini, “Lessons of the Georgia Conflict“, The New York Times, 30.09.2009). However, the Russians have been waiting for just such an opportunity: even before the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, they had increased their troop contingent in North Ossetia to around 9,000 and expanded the railway infrastructure in the border region with Abkhazia. Shortly after the Georgian bombardment, the tanks of the Russian 58th Army pushed through the Roki Tunnel to South Ossetia. Within a very short time, some 25,000-30,000 Russian and 12,000-15,000 Georgian soldiers faced off in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia also deployed around 200 aircraft, 40 helicopters and 1,200 armored vehicles (Pavel Felgenhauer, “After August 7: The Escalation of the Russia-Georgia War”, in The Guns of August 2008: Russia’s War in Georgia, Routledge, 2009, p. 173; Ariel Cohen and Robert E. Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War: Lessons and Implications“, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, June 2011, p. 12). In their approach, based on the Soviet mission doctrine, the Russian forces quickly built an overpowering concentration, took advantage of the momentum in enemy contact and advanced as far as possible without great fire support and flank protection. The rapid influx of large quantities of armored assets into South Ossetia and the opening of a second front in Abkhazia were decisive for Russian’s success – tactical skills were of secondary importance (Cohen and Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War”, p. 26ff).

By their numerical superiority, the Russian forces won the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, but the performance was extremely embarrassing. For various reasons, at the outbreak of the war, the General Staff was unable to conduct the operation from Moscow and establish a secure connection with the deployed assets (Cohen and Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War”, p. 23). If necessary, the units were commanded via Georgian telecommunications provider networks with mobile phones (Pavel Felgenhauer, “After August 7”, p. 67). However, even the units were not prepared for the war. According to the Russian Chief of Staff Nikolay Makarov only 17% of the ground troops, 5 of the 150 air force regiments and about half of the warships were ready to fight (Dmitry Solovyov, “Russian Army not fit for Modern War: Top General“, Reuters, 16.12.2008). The Russian global satellite navigation system Glonass, precision weapons, satellite or laser-guided missiles, anti-radar missiles and drones were not available. Lack of access to satellite imagery prompted the Russians to use a Tupolev Tu-22 bomber for reconnaissance over Georgia, where it was finally shot down by the Georgian air defense (Cohen and Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War”, p. 34f). The helicopters used had no equipment for friend/foe identification and no radio system, which would have been inter-operable with the ground forces, so they could not be used to provide close air support to the infantry (Dale R. Herspring, “Is Military Reform in Russia for ‘Real’? Yes, But …”, in The Russian Military Today and Tomorrow: Essays in Memory of Mary Fitzgerald, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2010, p. 154). In addition, the fighters had limited electronic warfare capabilities and could not be deployed at night. Nevertheless, Russia secured air superiority over the entire area, but this was not an exceptional achievement since Georgia had only eight fighter jets and 24 helicopters and deliberately did not use them (Cohen and Hamilton, The Russian Military and the Georgia War, p. 37).

A convoy of Russian troops on the way through the mountains to the armed conflict to South Ossetia on August 9, 2008.

A convoy of Russian troops on the way through the mountains to the armed conflict to South Ossetia on August 9, 2008.

During the five days of the war, Russian forces lost six bombers, four of which were shot down by their troops (Bettina Renz and Rod Thornton, “Russian Military Modernization“, Problems of Post-Communism, vol 57, no. 1, February 2012, p. 48). Despite the lack of resistance, the amphibious operation in Abkhazia could only be carried out with great difficulty, which was the trigger for the purchase of the French Mistral ships (Cohen and Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War”, p. 51). 60-75% of the main battle tanks used were old T-62, T-72M and T-72BM, which lacked modern reactive armor, night vision equipment, advanced means of communication and superior fire control system (Roger N. McDermott, “Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War“, Parameters 39, Spring 2009, p. 72). The Soviet operational doctrine against Georgian units trained to Western standards and equipped with modern technology had disastrous consequences: almost all 30 vehicles of the 58th Army Command Group were destroyed, killing or wounding many of the staff officers, including the Commander (Cohen and Hamilton, “The Russian Military and the Georgia War”, p. 28f)). Only the airborne troops and the air transport of crew, equipment, and supplies were effective in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

We must focus on the modernization of our armaments. The Caucasian crisis, the Georgian aggression, and ongoing militarization make this task a top priority of our state. – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on September 11, 2008, cited in Roger N. McDermott, “Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War”, p. 68.

The operational doctrine, training, leadership, equipment, and infrastructure of the Russian armed forces had become stuck somewhere between 1970 and 1980 (Herspring, “Is Military Reform in Russia for ‘Real’?”, 2010, p. 152-56). The picture given in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War did not agree with the claims of the political and military leaders. This bitter admission enabled the first comprehensive reform initiated by Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov. The reform was designed to make the armed forces more operational, mobile, professional and technologically better equipped (Bettina Renz, “Russian Military Capabilities after 20 Years of Reform”, Survival, vol. 56, no. 3, May 2014, p. 61). In order to do so, Serdyukov switched from divisions to a brigade-based system in a first phase, which should help to give more freedom of action, flexibility, and manageability. At the same time, personnel was reduced by around 200,000. Most of them were critical of reforms and older officers (Keir Giles and Andrew Monaghan, “Russian Military Transformation – Goal in Sight?“, U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 2014, p. 7). It was only in a second phase that the weapons systems were modernized, which proved to be difficult. The own productions were based exclusively on Soviet technology so that some systems had to be procured from abroad. As part of the modernization efforts, more than 20,000 T-72 and T-80 main battle tanks and scores of 18,000 armored personnel carriers were scrapped by the ground forces from 2010 onwards. The remaining tanks were upgraded – for example the T-72 to the T-72B3. In particular, the units in the southern military district were equipped with T-90A main battle tank and BTR-82A infantry fighting vehicles (Keir Giles, “A New Phase in Russian Military Transformation“, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, January 2014, p. 153). In 2011/12, significantly more fighter aircraft were delivered to the air forces, but they did not come up with fundamentally new technologies. The Sukhoi Su-57 (aka PAK FA T-50), also derived from the Serdyukov reform — according to Russian information a 5th generation fighter jet — is based in principle on Soviet technology (Vladimir Karnozov, “Russia places initial Production Order for Stealth Fighter“, Aviation International News, 03.07.2018). Because of a military industry neglected after the Cold War and the associated loss of know-how, there were large deficits in information and radar technology and the precision weapon systems until the end of the Serdyukov reform (Jonas Grätz, “Russia’s Military Reform: Progress and Hurdles“, ed. Christian Nünlist and Matthias Bieri, CSS Analyses in Security Policy, no. 152, April 2014, p. 4).

The second part deals with the progressive improvement of the Russian armed forces as a consequence of military reform, which became evident in the wars in Ukraine and Syria and the major exercises of the last two years. Finally, in the third part, the possible further development of the Russian armed forces for the period up to the end of 2030 will be discussed, and a conclusion will be drawn.

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The Lima Group and Democratic Struggle in the Western Hemisphere

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.

Unfortunately, as the second decade of the 21st century reaches its end, there remains no shortage of dictatorships in the world. According to the 2018 Democracy Index, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), there are now 53 authoritarian states and 39 quasi-authoritarian or “hybrid” states. Despite the geographic diffusion of these repressive regimes, African regional bodies are called on disproportionately to intervene when elections are blatantly rigged or force is employed to quash popular uprisings. For example, in just the past two years, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has deployed military forces to The Gambia after Yahya Jammeh refused to step down in favour of his democratically elected successor, ECOWAS successfully pressured Togo into holding elections as scheduled under that country’s constitution, and the African Union (AU) applied some quiet diplomacy in Gabon to forestall political violence there.

For all of this, African regional bodies like the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) came under fire for not intervening when a November 2017 coup d’etat in Zimbabwe foiled efforts to bring democratic change in that country after almost 40 years of rule by Robert Mugabe. This harsh criticism of the AU as a “club of dictators” is particularly undeserved, however, when one considers the inveterate refusal by regional bodies elsewhere in the world to take action in support of human rights and democracy. For example, the Organization of American States (OAS) has only offered some brief statements of condemnation as the Presidency in Cuba passed undemocratically from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl, in 2011 and again from Raul Castro to Miguel Diaz-Canel in 2018. As Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua has deployed troops against protesters since April 2018, killing hundreds, the OAS has considered sanctions but no action has yet been taken.

The Lima Group is a multilateral body that was established following the Lima Declaration on 8 August 2017 in the Peruvian capital of Lima, where representatives of 12 countries met in order to establish a peaceful exit to the crisis in Venezuela.

The Lima Group is a multilateral body that was established following the Lima Declaration on 8 August 2017 in the Peruvian capital of Lima, where representatives of 12 countries met in order to establish a peaceful exit to the crisis in Venezuela.

Encouragingly, though, the Lima Group is emerging as a credible tool for preserving peace and democracy in the Western Hemisphere. This regional grouping – comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Saint Lucia – met in Ottawa, Canada on February 4 to discuss the constitutional crisis in Venezuela. In that meeting, the Lima Group condemned the actions of Nicolás Maduro, who lost the support of Venezuela’s National Assembly in January 2019, and recognized Juan Guaidó as the Interim President of the country. The European Union (EU), the United States have also recognized Guaido’s legitimacy, while the OAS actually takes a more neutral stand.

However, the Lima Group lacks the same capacity to apply pressure on the Maduro regime that institutions like ECOWAS and the AU have been able to bring to bear. The declaration adopted in Ottawa calls for targeted sanctions against Maduro and his allies, while the Canadian government committed to provide $53 million in humanitarian aid for those migrants and refugees who have fled Venezuela in recent months to such nearby countries as Colombia, Guyana, Brazil, and Peru. In The Gambia, the ouster of Yahya Jammeh would not have been possible in 2017 were it not for the threat of ECOWAS deploying thousands of soldiers from regional neighbours Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria. A military intervention under the auspices of the Lima Group would be highly controversial, especially given the historical tensions between Venezuela and Colombia, including the Caldas frigate incident in 1987, in which Venezuelan fighter jets almost engaged a Colombian guided missile frigate that had strayed into waters claimed by Venezuela. Given the history of military interventions by the US into various Caribbean and Latin American countries to either ouster or bolster authoritarian rulers, there are few credible actors that could in fact be called upon to intervene militarily in Venezuela. However, even if such a decision is unlikely, it increasingly seems necessary for some form of military intervention, as a clash between pro-government militia and protesters on February 23 led to the deaths of four civilians and many more injured, and the conflict threatens to embroil border communities in Colombia.

In the coming years, it will be worthwhile for countries committed to upholding democratic peace in the Western Hemisphere to dedicate greater resources to the Lima Group and to expand its role beyond the Venezuelan crisis. Evidently, if the AU is a “club of dictators”, the OAS has practically become a jackboot fan club. This is a consequence of the late introduction of the Inter-American Democratic Charter; that commitment to uphold democratic values was only introduced in 2001, too late for the OAS to apply principles of conditionality like those of the EU on members like Cuba or Nicaragua. With deeper institutional foundations for the Lima Group, it might yet be possible to remedy this mistake and begin truly holding the Western Hemisphere’s dictatorships accountable for the treatment of their citizens.

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