Arms and the Man: What’s Next for Libya?

Libya is engaged in a civil war. New protests have broken out in Oman, Bahrain and Yemen. The uprising in Tunisia, the pioneer state of the so-called “Arab Spring,” is entering a second phase. As usual, the amateurish Obama administration has no idea what to do about any of this.

…America has established that its national policy in Libya is regime change. The question now is whether our inexperienced president will take concerted steps to back up that policy.

Gadhafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, boasted that the regime in Tripoli is not fazed by the prospect of U.S. intervention. “We are ready, we are not afraid,” he said Tuesday. “We live here, we die here.” Maybe that can be arranged.”

Editorial, Washington Times, 01 March 2011

Slowly but surely, the sound of sabres rattling is growing louder. Amidst a looming humanitarian crisis and incipient civil war, and denials notwithstanding, there are tell-tale signs of the ground being prepared. In the US and UK there is talk of establishing a no-fly zone, of sending in special forces, of arming and training the rebels…

As Western military assets are deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean and politicians are speaking increasingly of the possibility of some sort of  intervention, my sense of dread intensifies.

Where is the diplomatic offensive? Yes, the foreign holdings of the Qaddafi  family have been frozen, an arms embargo applied, and legal proceedings are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.  But this does not constitute anything like the full court diplomatic press purported to be underway. In fact, it reveals diplomacy’s displacement. Why is no one other than Hugo Chavez calling for immediate negotiations, offering mediation and good offices, dispatching special envoys, demanding that the UN Security Council act to separate the combatants before the onset of full blown hostilities…?

Have we not seen this movie – the one with the tragic ending – before?

Do governments ever learn?

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Listening to Lawrence – Part II

By my reckoning, history suggests that at the end of the day there are only three ways to successfully counter an insurgency.

The most obvious technique is that referred to rather disparagingly by T. E. Lawrence and set out in the previous post: suffocate the spark of resistance under the sheer weight of massive military occupation. Estimates vary, but the experience suggests that effective suffocation requires a ratio of counter insurgent soldiers to units of local population somewhere in the range of 1:10 to 1:100 or more, depending on the severity of the resistance encountered.  For example, troop requirements in 2004 during the second battle for  Fallujah, Iraq would have been on the high side of this scale, while in rural Malaysia, even at the height of the emergency in the mid-to-late 1950s, they would have been much lower.

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Listening to Lawrence – Part I

Last Sunday, August 1st, the Dutch began a low key, unceremonious withdrawal from participation in the NATO/ISAF mission to Afghanistan. With 24 dead, 140 wounded, and over a billion euros expended, Holland is the first major member of the ISAF coalition to head for the exit. This event, however, was almost lost in the Canadian mix of news coverage over the holiday long weekend, despite the fact that Afghanistan remains among Canada’s top international priorities.

As the number of outside  military forces active in Afghanistan shrinks – Canada, and likely Germany are set to follow the Dutch example next year – the US is more than compensating with a troop surge which is now in full swing. These developments, in combination with the record number of casualties, may serve to encourage more public and media attention and give rise to a broad consideration of the way ahead.

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Political Officers in Conflict Zones: Public Diplomacy and Counterinsurgency – Part III

The past few posts have focused on the potential role of diplomacy in addressing the complex challenges of counterinsurgency.

Can non-violent approaches to conflict resolution make a difference?

Yes, but it is unlikely that contribution cannot be fully realized under present circumstances.

It is not just that the diplomatic business model has not responded adequately to the challenges of globalization – it hasn’t – or that foreign ministries are underfunded, hierarchic and risk-averse – they are. These features compound the problem, but it is the particular difficulties in the field that define it.

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Political Officers in Conflict Zones: Public Diplomacy and Counterinsurgency – Part II

Development is a strategic and moral imperative…  our intention is to elevate development so that it stands alongside defense and diplomacy and an equal. Defense, development and diplomacy need to reinforce each other, but each also brings a unique perspective and set of capabilities to the table. Together, they make us stronger, smarter and more effective.

President Barack Obama, describing the new US national security strategy.

In earlier posts and elsewhere I have made the case that in the age of globalization, development  has in large part become the new security. That is why I advocate the substitution of diplomacy – and especially an extreme form of  public diplomacy, with the emphasis on cross-cultural dialogue and meaningful exchange – for defence at the centre of international policy.

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