By Chris Newton
It has been a long, strenuous, and difficult summer in the Ministry of Defence. As part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), it and the entire defence community has been grappling with two fundamental questions about the future. What will the future strategic environment look like? And what does this mean for our Armed Forces? There are those commentators who can, with a remarkable degree of confidence, say that they can predict what the future character of conflict will look like. Future conflict will be similar to the wars we have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and 9/11 was a significant date that heralded a new kind of warfare.
But is this certainty in predicting the future justified when history always teaches us to expect the unexpected? History does not follow a linear, pre-determined path; it is about men and women making choices between alternative futures and scenarios. A gunshot in 1914, for example, completely destroyed an entire European and world order. So we should at the very least be open to alternative scenarios and future pathways. Moreover, there is another significant date has passed us by that could signal the change the world is about to face, and we could risk harming our future security and prosperity if we choose to ignore its significance.
By George Friedman
We are now nine weeks away from the midterm elections in the United States. Much can happen in nine weeks, but if the current polls are to be believed, U.S. President Barack Obama is about to suffer a substantial political reversal. While we normally do not concern ourselves with domestic political affairs in the United States, when the only global power is undergoing substantial political uncertainty, that inevitably affects its behavior and therefore the dynamics of the international system. Thus, we have to address it, at least from the standpoint of U.S. foreign policy. While these things may not matter much in the long run, they certainly are significant in the short run.
To begin thinking about this, we must bear three things in mind. First, while Obama won a major victory in the Electoral College, he did not come anywhere near a landslide in the popular vote. About 48 percent of the voters selected someone else. In spite of the Democrats' strength in Congress and the inevitable bump in popularity Obama received after he was elected, his personal political strength was not overwhelming. Over the past year, poll numbers indicating support for his presidency have deteriorated to the low 40 percent range, numbers from which it is difficult, but not impossible, to govern.
By Rachel Miller-Sprafke
The modern security environment presents an unprecedented challenge. Throughout history security requirements and the defence policies initiated therein have been subject to change, yet never before have the concepts themselves been so completely revolutionized. An unprecedented level of risk has compelled people of every stratum in society, from members of the public to those responsible for their defence, to do the impossible: to prepare for threats that have not yet materialized.
Previous changes in security and defence have not been conceptual, but practical. Technological developments and budget increases altered the potential of defensive policies. Political, economic, and social changes affected state relations, and therefore who and what was to be perceived as a security threat. What society faces now, however, is a complete revolution in the concept of security. It is an expansion necessitated by the increasing number of potential risks, which are no longer limited to traditional military notions of security. Threats are emerging from fields that were never previously included in the remit of defence, covering a spectrum from energy shortages to economic recession to climate change to global disease pandemic. The security sector is growing to include these new types of risks, but its expansion does not stop at these borders. Beyond these risks that are quantifiable lies the vast realm of the unknown. Here belong the dangers that have no name, where threats that do not yet exist lie in wait. The definition of security is evolving to include protection from the unpredictable, and thus defence policy must now do the seemingly impossible: to account for dangers that do not exist, to think the unthinkable.
Globalisation tells us that the world is 'shrinking' and interdependence is increasing. I will deal with that claim in greater detail below, but for now the point must be made that all of this is based upon an assumption that there is, in the first place, a 'world' or a 'global' system that can be studied politically. In fact, that is a very big claim indeed. World politics is regional politics. The globe is divided into regions (North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, South Asia and East Asia) and sub-regions, and states pay minimal attention to things that happen elsewhere. Only the US is genuinely 'global' because of its military and economic presence. But how many educated Europeans know the name of the Japanese prime minister, or pay attention to Columbian politics? Who would invest Japan with greater significance than France, despite Japan being a much more important country? Very few. And who can really blame them? The problems of those areas remain remote.
David Miliband, when Foreign Secretary, announced that 'power is moving to a global level'. In truth, the idea that there even is a 'global level' is a fallacy. International institutions lack real power, and only have it when the states they consist of can agree to do something; more often than not they are paralysed by those states. The rulings of the United Nations Security Council are mostly gesture, lacking in bite. Anyway, the most effective international bodies – like NATO, the EU or the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation – are regional, not global. Rhetoric aside, regional politics are what matters. Since the Cold War, the major states have continued to negotiate with one another directly and solve problems between themselves, with the most powerful having the most influence. The collapse of the bi-polar framework saw more states become increasingly relevant. What that means, far from offering any support to globalisation, is that the traditional bases of international relations have been reinforced, not weakened.
By Ben West
Militants in Tajikistan's Rasht Valley ambushed a military convoy of 75 Tajik troops Sept. 19, killing 25 military personnel according to official reports and 40 according to the militants, who attacked from higher ground with small arms, automatic weapons and grenades. The Tajik troops were part of a nationwide deployment of security forces seeking to recapture 25 individuals linked to the United Tajik Opposition militant groups that had escaped from prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 24. The daring prison break was conducted by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), and saw five security guards killed and the country put on red alert. According to the Tajik government, after the escape, most of the militants fled to the Rasht Valley, an area under the influence of Islamist militants that is hard to reach for Tajikistan's security forces and thus rarely patrolled by troops.
Sunday's attack was one of the deadliest clashes between militants and the Tajik government since the Central Asian country's civil war ended in 1997. The last comparable attack was in 1998, when militants ambushed a battalion of Interior Ministry troops just outside Dushanbe, killing 20 and kidnapping 110. Sunday's incident was preceded by a Sept. 3 attack on a police station that involved a suicide operative and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in the northwest Tajik city of Khujand that killed four police officers. Suicide attacks are rare in Tajikistan, and VBIEDs even more so. The Khujand attack also stands out as it occurred outside militant territory. Khujand, Tajikistan's second-largest city after the capital, is located at the mouth of the Fergana Valley, the largest population center in Central Asia.
This represents a noticeable increase in the number and professionalism of militant operations in Tajikistan. Regardless of whether the September attacks can be directly linked to the Aug. 24 jailbreak in Dushanbe, the sudden re-emergence of attacks in Tajikistan after a decade of quiet in Central Asia deserves our attention. In short, something is percolating in the valleys of Central Asia that has reawakened militant groups more or less dormant for a decade. This unrest will likely continue and possibly grow if Tajik security forces can't get control of the situation.
By George Friedman
Bob Woodward has released another book, this one on the debate over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration. As all his books do, the book has riveted Washington. It reveals that intense debate occurred over what course to take, that the president sought alternative strategies and that compromises were reached. But while knowing the details of these things is interesting, what would have been shocking is if they hadn't taken place.
It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means.
But while the military's top generals and senior civilian leadership are responsible for providing the president with sound, clearheaded advice on all military matters including the highest levels of grand strategy, they are ultimately responsible for the pursuit of military objectives to which the commander-in-chief directs them. Generals must think about how to win the war they are fighting. Presidents must think about whether the war is worth fighting. The president is responsible for America's global posture. He must consider what an unlimited commitment to a particular conflict might mean in other regions of the world where forces would be unavailable.
A president must take a more dispassionate view than his generals. He must calculate not only whether victory is possible but also the value of the victory relative to the cost. Given the nature of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus — first the U.S. Central Command chief and now the top commander in Afghanistan — had to view it differently. This is unavoidable. This is natural. And only one of the two is ultimately in charge.
Dr Robert Crowcroft
The facts of the latest terrorist plot against the West are still hazy, but what we do know is this: simultaneous attacks have been planned against several European cities, including London and probably sites in France and Germany. These attacks were to be modelled on the effective 'commando raids' in Mumbai in 2008, in which groups of terrorists wreaked havoc with automatic weapons and killed hundreds of people. India has still not recovered. And the plot was led by senior Al-Qaeda figures in Waziristan. The intelligence services think that the plot was in the 'final stages' before being launched, that it would have been a 'spectacular', that British Muslims were once again involved, and that the purpose was an old-fashioned suicidal rampage. The plot seems to have been disrupted by American drone strikes in Pakistan, killing the brains of the plot.
There are two points here. One is the absolute centrality of the United States to any sensible security strategy for Britain. I will try not to even get into what this latest American intervention to protect our citizens says about the perspectives of those like Labour leader Ed Miliband (who wants a more 'independent' foreign policy) and his ally Sadiq Khan (who thinks the US alliance is 'poison' for Britain). All I will say is that I look forward to the day when the likes of Miliband and Khan sign up to defend the country with their lives if the Americans decided a whining ally isn't worth having. As a university teacher, when confronted by anti-American students I routinely stop seminars and pose the question whether they, personally, would be willing to kill in order to defend the realm. The bewildered look on their faces when I do so tells me that they have never contemplated an activity that throughout human history as been the norm for most males. But the fact that people in this country can lead such a sheltered existence is due only to Britain's alliance with the United States and our possession of nuclear weapons. Surely it isn't beyond us as a society not to mess it all up.
The second point is that given the inability of Islamic terrorists to match, or better, the 9/11 atrocities over the past nine years, from their perspective this kind of attack would appear to be the most sensible kind of approach to take. All they need is a few guns and a rampage can be launched. With Mumbai-esque operations there is less of a need to do the kind of things that increase the risk of detection – like buying chemicals and cooking explosives in suburban kitchens. The blunt (and frightening) truth is that if I was an Islamic terrorist, settling on a 'commando raid' rampage would now look a far more profitable means of spreading fear and chaos than attempting to stage so-called 'grand' terror attacks.
Will home-grown terrorists head in this direction? If they do, the prospects for social peace in this country will be poor. It is significant that this plot emanated from Pakistan – where Islamic extremists are at least familiar with the concept of 'strategy'. We should be grateful that, so far, domestic extremists have proven even more inept at waging an insurgency against Britain than was the IRA – and they were shockingly bad, to say the least. Instead those British citizens who turn to terrorism have been more inclined to gesture and feel-good exhibitionism about killing the infidels than with actually getting on and killing then. The 7/7 bombings were the only significant Islamist attack on these shores since 9/11, due to not only the diligence of law-enforcement agencies but also the incompetence of domestic terrorists. If more British Muslims come under the operational sway of those people abroad who actually understand how to run an insurgency, then terror attacks could become a more frequent occurrence.
Take the 2005 attack on the Tube and Tavistock Square. Brutal? Yes. Strategically effective? Absolutely not. The purpose of an insurgency is to win the support of a particular part of the population (in this case, the wider British Muslim community). To do that, they need to be radicalised (here, made not only sympathetic to, but willing to actively assist, the Islamist causes). And to be radicalised, the majority of the population must be persuaded to take repressive measures against them (in other words, turn the non-Muslims against the Muslim minority). From this perspective, 7/7 was a dismal failure. The plotters were glorified exhibitionists. Contrast it with the Chechens who conducted the horrendous Beslan school siege in 2005. Now they had an eye for strategy. And compare it with the Mumbai atrocities as well. The reaction of the British public to rampaging, random attacks against the vulnerable or major national hubs doesn't bear thinking about. At the very least, racial tensions in this country would increase markedly.
The terrorists, therefore, have important decisions to make. If they become more cunning and with a greater eye for strategy, then our stable society will find itself in danger. And so we have important decisions to make too: about whether we will stop rubbishing the relationship with the United States, and what we are going to do to prepare for attacks like Beslan or Mumbai. Because it is almost certain that, sooner or later, they will happen.
Robert Crowcroft is a specialist on British politics and defence.
By Chris Newton
In order to prevail over Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, democratic countries need to win the support of the people in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moderate Islamic community, and its own electorates. This is the crucial battleground in the 'War on Terror'. However, many academics and commentators have concluded that the Islamists currently have the advantage in this area. Just as the situation in Iraq in 2006 demanded a review into US military strategy, the situation today requires just as important a review into the west's approach to strategic communication. This article examines the flaws in the current approach and provides suggestions as to how the west can establish a better 'strategic narrative'. It predominantly takes a UK perspective.
Losing the war of words?
Scholars and analysts have not rated the west's efforts so far on this front. Indeed, the various opinions polls suggest that British public support for the war in Afghanistan is waning. Why? As David Betz suggested in an article on propaganda in 2008, there Islamist strategic narrative is more coherent than the west's. The Islamists tell a story of victimhood which its audience can relate to. It combines elements of truth, such as the Abu Ghraib incident, with fiction into an emotive narrative of western persecution and aggression. It disseminates its message across the world, using the internet and the media effectively. And as a result, regardless of how preposterous their claims are, the coherence of their argument makes it compelling to its target audience.
The western narrative, as David Betz showed, lacks coherence and is rather confused. The different objectives for the Afghan mission, ranging from getting rid of Al Qaeda to the elimination of poppy crops has confused people as to why we are really there. And given that the main military part of the 'War on Terror' is taking place in a distant land, the audience finds it difficult to relate Afghanistan to security in the UK and the west. What makes it even harder for a western narrative to gain currency is that so many of the public are cynical towards politicians and are consequently susceptible to anti-democratic, anti-capitalist, and anti-war narratives. This is because of the disintegration of unity and a lack of self confidence within western countries, especially the UK. Moreover, Islamist ideology is only one narrative that the west has to tackle in addition to the established narratives of Marxism and emerging narratives put forward by authoritarian rulers.
But is the west really doomed to fail here? David Betz contrasts the west's performance in the war on terror with western societies' marketing and public relations activities in business, fashion, and popular culture. Why can't we translate this success to the area where we need it most – war? In domestic politics, politicians hire public relations professionals to develop its own narratives about the state of the country and how they will change things. Political party offices hire people to monitor the words and actions of their opposition and they develop material that highlights inconsistencies and hypocritical actions. But for some reason, governments and news organisation are extremely poor at communicating to the public the inconsistencies of the Al Qaeda narrative.
By George Friedman
The U.S. government issued a warning Oct. 3 advising Americans traveling to Europe to be "vigilant." U.S. intelligence apparently has acquired information indicating that al Qaeda is planning to carry out attacks in European cities similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India, in November 2008. In Mumbai, attackers armed with firearms, grenades and small, timed explosive devices targeted hotels frequented by Western tourists and other buildings in an attack that took three days to put down.
European security forces are far better trained and prepared than their Indian counterparts, and such an attack would be unlikely to last for hours, much less days, in a European country. Still, armed assaults conducted by suicide operatives could be expected to cause many casualties and certainly create a dramatic disruption to economic and social life.
The first question to ask about the Oct. 3 warning, which lacked specific and actionable intelligence, is how someone can be vigilant against such an attack. There are some specific steps that people can and should take to practice good situational awareness as well as some common-sense travel-security precautions. But if you find yourself sleeping in a hotel room as gunmen attack the building, rush to your floor and start entering rooms, a government warning simply to be vigilant would have very little meaning.
The world is awash in intelligence about terrorism. Most of it is meaningless speculation, a conversation intercepted between two Arabs about how they'd love to blow up London Bridge. The problem, of course, is how to distinguish between idle chatter and actual attack planning. There is no science involved in this, but there are obvious guidelines. Are the people known to be associated with radical Islamists? Do they have the intent and capability to conduct such an attack? Were any specific details mentioned in the conversation that can be vetted? Is there other intelligence to support the plot discussed in the conversation?
Dr Robert Crowcroft, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum
Almost certainly the biggest contemporary problem for the way in which the US and its allies wage war is our curious aversion to destroying and killing the enemy. The military power wielded by the US is so great that it is difficult to see how it can be 'defeated' in anything but the long term. Surely, you would think, that once battle has been joined the priority would be crushing the enemy, no matter how it is done. This trend is especially puzzling when we bear in mind that recent conflicts have been expeditionary operations and are, in effect, wars of choice: we have chosen to designate certain people as our enemies and make war against them.
The reticence about utilising our full strength to achieve our goals – goals which are apparently so important that we committed to war – is debilitating. Doing so for 'moral' reasons – in reality, merely the need for a socially unrepresentative group of politicians and commentators to feel themselves virtuous – only reduces the prospect of victory and, usually, constitutes no solution to the problem at hand. One important point here is that military behaviour appealing to the prejudices of the cosmopolitan classes hardly ever works and should be avoided like the plague. Another point centres on the unpalatable truth that killing the enemy and inflicting violence upon him is absolutely central to a successful war. It always has been. In the West, our sheltered societies have forgotten that. The contemporary expectation for wars to be virtually bloodless is simply pathetic and says a great deal – none of it good – about the state of our civilisation.
The fact is that there is no substitute for convincing an adversary of his defeat through graphic means; of shedding the enemy's blood in adequate quantities to achieve this; of showing resolution against opponents whose cultural background means that they only respect the clenched fist; and doing all this as quickly as possible once battle is joined. The modern aversion to inflicting, and sustaining, death in large quantities means that we no longer understand war for what it is: a matter of attrition, and of killing the opponent. War is brutal, and it must be so. Moreover, as Ralph Peters argued, attrition is 'not something to be avoided – and no rule says that attrition must be fairly distributed. The well-fought war inflicts catastrophic attrition on the enemy'. Only by sustaining heavy losses will the enemy be convinced of his defeat. Additionally, a few adversaries – like many Islamists – cannot be persuaded to desist no matter what we do; and so they must be killed.