ISIS: Here to Stay! – Part 1/3

by Sascha Bruchmann. Sascha Bruchmann studied International Law and International Politics in Germany and in the US. He worked as an analyst, covering the MENA region.

A geopolitical analysis of the larger situation in the Middle East reveals that the currently embattled ISIS will not be defeated like its predecessor Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The current environment in the region will allow it to prevail as the dominant actors are either reluctant or unable to crush it. ISIS will be contained and pushed back into Syria, where it will be allowed by most players to continue its role, primarily as a faction in the civil war dividing the Assad-opposition. The following analysis will highlighting the relevant actors’ strategies in today’s conflicts and is divided into three parts: The first part deals with ISIS itself and the US as an international power, followed by the dominant regional powers in the second part. The third part investigates Iraq, its subnational forces and concludes the series (Part 3 will follow in the next weeks).

ISIS fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province in June 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic "caliphate" after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq.

ISIS fighters take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province in June 2014. The fighters held the parade to celebrate their declaration of an Islamic “caliphate” after the group captured territory in neighbouring Iraq.

ISIS – a product of a power vacuum
ISIS is currently embattled and attacked by the Iraqi Army, various Kurdish forces, the Assad regime, al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army and US air strikes. However, the groups end is not in sight. It will prevail once it has been pushed back out of Mosul and into Syria, where already the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq survived and regrouped as ISIS. This conclusion is derived not through inside looks and speculation about ISIS ideology, leadership, coherence or military strength, but through analyzing the geopolitical environment which is permissive to its survival. ISIS prevails in the chaos unfolded by the struggle for regional dominance between Saudi-Arabia and Iran, which in turn is a consequence to the partial withdrawal of the US towards Asia.

ISIS’ advance has been swift since the beginning of the year. In mid-June, Iraqi officials estimated that there were 6,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq, however it is hard to estimate their fighting forces due to recent successes in recruitment and alliances with local Sunni forces. Contrary to current media coverage ISIS does not have a great amount of heavy weapons. Neither the captured Humvees, nor mortars are considered to be such equipment. It relies on fast guerrilla attacks, mainly backed by technicals and some forces that in most conventional armies would be considered either light or mobile infantry. The few US-American assets, M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) and M198 Howitzers, that would make up heavier forces are now the prime targets for US-American F-16s coming from İncirlik, Turkey and will not be around for long.

Its rise can primarily be attributed as a consequence of the complex regional interplay in Syria, Iraq and the larger Levant region, as a product of what F. Gregory Cause of the Brookings Doha Center described as the “new Middle East cold war”. ISIS used a power vacuum to survive and conquer. Its usefulness to most actors and the fact that it was and is not the strategic priority of most actors in the region have allowed its fast expansion.

ISIS positions in August 2014.

ISIS positions in August 2014.

The United States – Moving on!
This article is also a reaction to the perceived absence of strategic thinking in current talks about the crisis in Iraq. On Sunday, August 18, 2014, four high ranking regional specialists debated the US’ policy options on ISIS on Fareed Zakaria’s programme GPS (CNN) (the audio only version of the show is added below). Eventually, they agreed that US President Barack Obama should do more. They also agreed that he should do so by continuing air strikes and using the Kurds as force on the ground. Moreover, they agreed the US President had no strategy on solving the crisis in Iraq or no strategy at all. This underlines how regional policies are taken for strategies. The commentators have still not come to realize that Obama is enforcing the new worldwide US strategy for the 21st century that has Asia at its pivot. It is a consequence of this shift in priorities and force structure that the Obama administration has been reluctant to use force in the Middle East recently. Obama accepts the power vacuum and ensuing conflict between Saudi-Arabia and Iran as a byproduct of this centennial shift towards Asia. However, he needs to think of China. It is this perceived void of power projection that allows other actors to fill in. It serves as a framework for the players in the region and thus is a permissive variable for the current struggle in the Middle East.

The US wants to leave a stable Middle East, where it can enjoy a peace dividend similar to the one in Europe after 1990. Leaving in this case means that the US cannot allow itself to be pulled into another decade of war consuming more power assets, may they be blood, treasure or political capital. It will not intervene with boots on the ground, but rather air strikes, drones, Navy assets and special forces. In order to achieve the maximum goal of stabilizing the region the US wants to see Assad fall and be replaced by a moderate Syrian government. Currently the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces in Istanbul is the Western-backed and regionally supported organization for this task, although infighting between its backers has at times paralyzed it. In Iraq the US wants to maintain the territorial integrity and “for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government—one that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and one that can unify the country’s fight against ISIL” as President Obama said. ISIS is a threat to the goals in Iraq, but at the same time a tool against Assad as Karl Mueller from the RAND Organization reveals. Thus, it is not schizophrenic of the US to attack ISIS in Iraq and leave it in Syria. ISIS is one of several challenges for the US in the region. To put it into perspective, ISIS is still not the strategic objective in the Middle East for the US. From the US point of view it is one thing to join the fight against Assad, but a completely different thing to conquer territory for a terrorist group, which actually confuses the US interests regime change and fight against Islamist terror. Thus, ISIS has come to be considered a regional challenger to US interests in the magnitude of Bashar al-Assad in Syria or a disintegrating Iraq. However, ISIS, Syria and Iraq constitute factors in a wider calculation of a balance of power between Saudi-Arabia and Iran in the struggle for hegemony in the Middle East. For the US, the sole global power, the Middle East itself is on pair with the challenges of Russia or China – “industrialized nations with sophisticated militaries.”.

US action in Iraq and inaction in Syria reveals a prioritization in which ISIS cannot be number one as Professor David C. Hendrickson notes in “The National Interest“:

The implications of making ISIS enemy numero uno in the region are far-reaching. It means accepting a greater Iranian role in the defense of Iraq, and especially the defense of Baghdad. It means stopping “humanitarian” assistance across the Turkish border that would in any way run to the benefit of ISIS. [...] Perhaps above all, it means giving up on the now obviously failed and disastrous policy of encouraging armed revolt in Syria. That means accepting Assad, for the foreseeable future, as a permanent part of Middle Eastern political geography and enlisting him in the struggle against ISIS. — Professor David Hendrickson, “The ISIS Challenge: A Tough Problem, Even Tougher Solutions“, The National Interest, 15.08.2014.

The US want to implement a government in Syria that is not allied to Iran. Hence, they can break Iran’s axis of resistance and force it to the negotiation table over its nuclear programme. Through this they can calm Saudi-Arabia’s fear, dampen the security dilemma and decrease their footprint in the region; pacifying the Middle East one piece at a time with the replacement of Assad as cornerstone. The US will not completely leave the Middle East, but it will become more of an offshore balancer, as today in Iraq, 2011 in Libya or as it was prepared to be in 2013 in Syria. Naval and Air Force presence in Bahrain and Qatar is already the foreseeable centerpiece of this restructuring process.

The misconception with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces is that it will probably be dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the largest faction within it and the affiliated Free Syrian Army. In Iraq the misconception is that there has ever been a government of national unity to be reestablished. Saddam Hussein’s rule was based on Sunni dominance as much as Shia forces ruled after him. The only way out of the sectarian crisis seems to be a more and more federated state.

Eventually, Obama will stick to his plan. The fate of US dominance will be decided in the Pacific and China will not wait. A change of plans back towards the Middle East is not in the US’ interest.

Read also the second part, which will deal with the dominant regional powers.

More information
Fareed Zakaria’s discussion about the crisis in Iraq from his show, aired on Sunday, August 18, 2014:

Posted in English, International, Iraq, Sascha Bruchmann, Security Policy, Syria, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Al-Shabaab in Somalia: Mit militärischen Mitteln kaum zu schlagen

von Peter Dörrie

14096001190_bab8bd28e5_bNicht einmal die Villa Somalia ist mehr sicher. Mitte Juli attackierten Kämpfer der radikal-islamistischen Al-Shabaab-Miliz das schwer bewachte Gebäude, in dem neben dem Präsidenten auch viele andere hohe Regierungsbeamte leben und arbeiten. Es war der vorläufige und blutige Höhepunkt einer Terrorkampagne, mit der die Miliz aktuell die somalische Regierung und die internationale Gemeinschaft herausfordert.

Seit 2003 kämpft Al-Shabaab für einen Gottesstaat in Somalia. Gegründet wurde “Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahedeen”, die “Jugendbewegung der Mujahedeen”, von einer kleinen Gruppe Islamisten in einer Autowerkstatt in Mogadischu. Es folgte ein rasanter Aufstieg. Zwischenzeitlich kontrollierte Al-Shabaab fast das gesamte südliche Somalia. Erst als ab 2010 AMISOM, die Friedenstruppe der Afrikanischen Union auf inzwischen mehr als 20’000 Soldaten verstärkt wurde, konnte die Gruppe aus den großen Städten des Landes zurückdrängt werden.

Stig Jarle Hansen, Autor des Buches “Al Shabaab in Somalia“, zweifelt im Interview mit allerdings daran, dass AMISOM die Miliz militärisch besiegen kann. Es stünden viel zu wenige Soldaten zur Verfügung, um das große somalische Hinterland von Al-Shabaab zu befreien. Die Afrikanische Union und die somalische Regierung sollten sich auf einen langen Krieg einrichten, so Hansen. “Die Herausforderung ist jetzt, wer die stärkeren Strukturen hat.”

Anpassungsfähig und lokal verwurzelt
Laut Cedric Barnes vom Think Tank “International Crisis Group” liegt die Stärke von Al-Shabaab darin, ihre militärische Taktik den Umständen anzupassen. “Sie haben aus ihren früheren Fehlern gelernt, dass sie konventionelle Kriegsführung teuer zu stehen kommt”, so Barnes. Anstatt sich mit AMISOM und der somalischen Armee offene Schlachten zu liefern, zieht sich Al-Shabaab bei Konfrontationen lieber kampflos zurück. Dadurch erhält sich die Organisation ihre Kampfstärke. Al-Shabaab schneidet befreite Städte vom Umland ab und greift die Versorgungswege an, um ihre Gegner zu zermürben. Dasselbe Ziel verfolgen auch die vielen gezielten Tötungen, etwa des Parlamentariers Mohamed Mohamud Hayd im Juli 2014. International erregen vor allem Terrorangriffe in der Hauptstadt Mogadishu und dem benachbarten Kenia Aufsehen. 2013 besetzen Kämpfer von Al-Shabaab das Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi und töteten mindestens 67 Menschen.

Barnes warnt davor, die Debatte über Al-Shabaab auf militärische Fragen zu reduzieren: “Wir sollten nicht so viel über die Organisation von Al-Shabaab nachdenken, sondern darüber, was die Gründe für ihren Erfolg sind.” Die Stärke der Miliz liege darin, dass sich die Gruppe sehr erfolgreich lokalen Missständen annehme, so Barnes. Dem stimmt Matthew Bryden zu. Der Kanadier war von 2008 bis 2012 Koordinator der Beobachtungsgruppe der Vereinten Nationen für Somalia. Bedeutend sei nicht Al-Shabaabs eigene Stärke, sagt er, sondern ihre Fähigkeit, die Schwächen ihrer Feinde auszunutzen. Erfolg habe sie dort, wo es eine unfähige oder unbeliebte Regierung gebe.


Die islamistischen Freiheitskämpfer
Zugute kommt Al-Shabaab dabei, dass kein anderer Akteur in Somalia über eine derart gefestigte Ideologie und stimmige politische Agenda verfügt. Als Ursache für die Krise Somalias hat die Miliz den Abfall vom Islam und die Intervention ausländischer Mächte ausgemacht. Diese Botschaft kommt in der somalischen Gesellschaft durchaus an, die schon vor dem Bürgerkrieg, der 1991 zum Sturz des Diktators Siad Barre führte und immer noch anhält, stark nationalistisch geprägt war.

Äthiopien und Kenia, zwei der größten Truppensteller von AMISOM, seien nicht sehr populär in Somalia, sagt Abdi Aynte, ein somalischer Journalist und Analyst. “Ihre Präsenz ist eine stetige Quelle der Rekrutierung für Al-Shabaab. Eine große Mehrheit der somalischen Bevölkerung sieht sie als Kolonialmächte und Aggressoren.” Al-Shabaab wird auch langfristig mit rein militärischen Mitteln kaum zu besiegen sein, da sind sich die Experten einig. Erst wenn der politische Prozess das Leben der somalischen Bevölkerung spürbar verbessert, könne der radikalen Ideologie der Islamisten der Nährboden entzogen werden.

Posted in Peacekeeping, Peter Dörrie, Somalia | Leave a comment

Deutsche Waffen für “kurdischen Sicherheitskräfte”

PeshmergaSAuch wenn die Deutsche Bundesregierung zur Lieferung von Waffen an die “kurdischen Sicherheitskräfte” (was damit auch immer gemeint ist; siehe auch Kamal Chomani, “Unerwartete Allianz der KRG und PKK im gemeinsamen Kampf gegen IS“, Kurdische Nachrichten, 22.08.2014) keine Zustimmung des Parlaments benötigt hätte, so wurde wegen der Bedeutung der Entscheidung im Bundestag trotzdem darüber abgestimmt. Die Zustimmung fiel deutlich aus, wobei sich nur Politiker der Grünen und der Linken mehrheitlich gegen die Waffenlieferungen ausgesprochen haben. Trotz den Risiken, dass sich die Kurden mittel- bis langfristig mit diesen Waffen den unabhängigen Staat Kurdistan erkämpfen könnten, wurden die Waffenlieferungen von der irakischen Zentralregierung bewilligt.

Bei den Waffen handelt es sich um 8’000 Pistolen Walther P1 (mit 1 Million Schuss Munition), 8’000 Sturmgewehre HK G3 (mit 2 Millionen Schuss Munition), 8’000 Sturmgewehre HK G36 (mit 4 Millionen Schuss Munition), 40 Maschinengewehre MG3 (mit 1 Million Schuss Munition), 30 Panzerabwehrwaffen MILAN (inkl. 500 Schuss), 200 Panzerfaust 3 (inkl. 2’500 Schuss), 40 schwere Panzerfäuste (inkl. 1’000 Schuss Leuchtmunition), 100 Signalpistolen (inkl. 4’000 Schuss) und 10’000 Handgranaten. Weiter werden 700 Funkgeräte, 4’000 Gefechtshelme, 4’000 Ballistische Schutzhelme, 20 Metallsuchgeräte zur Minensuche, 30 Minensonden, 40 Werkzeugsätze zur Munitionsbeseitigung, 680 Nachtsichtgeräte Infrarot, 4’000 Schutzwesten, 25 Feldküchen, 125 Zelte, 1’500 Doppelfernrohre und 270 Persönliche Sanitätsausstattungen geliefert. Bei den Fahrzeugen werden 40 LKW Wolf (ungeschützt), 20 LKW Wolf (teilgeschützt), 40 LKW 2t UNIMOG, 1 Tanklastwagen und 5 ATF Dingo 1 abgegeben (Quelle: Christian Thiels, ARD Korrespondent Verteidigung & Sicherheitspolitik). Der Gesamtwert der Lieferung beträgt rund 70 Millionen Euro.

Uns sind die Risiken einer solchen Unterstützung bewusst. Wir haben sie natürlich bedacht. Umgekehrt haben wir aber auch gefragt: Was ist mit den akuten Risiken, die von der Terrorgruppe Isis ausgehen, wenn wir jetzt keine Waffen und keine Munition liefern. Können wir wirklich warten und hoffen, dass andere sich dieser akuten Gefahr stellen? Nein. Dies entspricht nicht unserer Vorstellung von Verantwortung in dieser Situation. [...] Das, was ist, wiegt in diesem Fall schwerer als das, was sein könnte. — Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel, “Unterstützung der Kurden im Irak“, Regierungserklärung der Kanzlerin, 01.09.2014.

Folgende Videos von Vice News geben einen kurzen, jedoch interessanten Einblick in die “kurdischen Sicherheitskräfte” im Irak. Im ersten Video sind die Peschmergas, im zweiten Video PKK-Kämpfer zu sehen. Die PKK und ihre Nachfolgeorganisationen sind unter anderem in der EU, in den USA und in Grossbritannien als terroristische Vereinigung eingestuft (aber das nur so nebenbei ;-)).

Update vom 07.09.2014
Gemäss Angaben der “Schweiz am Sonntag” stammt die Munition für die 8’000 Sturmgewehre HK G36 von der RUAG Ammotec (der Produktionsstandort liegt in Deutschland, der Sitz jedoch in Thun). Der RUAG-Konzern besteht aus den ehemaligen Rüstungsbetriebe des Bundes und die Aktien der Gesellschaft befinden sich vollumfänglich im Besitz des Bundes. Zwar lässt sich die deutsche Bundeswehr noch von einem zweiten Hersteller mit der Gewehrmunition beliefern, doch traten bei dieser Munition zuletzt schwere Mängel auf. Gemäss einem Sprecher des deutschen Verteidigungsministeriums werde “ausschliesslich nicht auffällig gewordene Munition geliefert werden”.

Der Artikel in der “Schweiz am Sonntag” liefert noch eine zweite interessante Information: Laut dem Nachrichtendienst des Bundes sind 15 Dschihad-Reisende aus der Schweiz in Syrien unterwegs. Auf Facebook präsentieren sie sich mit schwarzer IS-Flagge und Hasstiraden. Gegen sie laufen bei der Bundesanwaltschaft Verfahren wegen Unterstützung von oder Beteiligung an organisierter Kriminalität. Doch die Ermittlungen gestalten sich schwierig, da der Aufenthaltsort der Kämpfer schwer eruierbar ist und sie elektronische Spuren systematisch verschleiern. Hinzu kommt: “In der Regel können wir nicht auf die Unterstützung lokaler Behörden zurückgreifen”, sagt Francesco Maltauro von der Bundesanwaltschaft. Zwei Dschihad-Kämpfende sind bis jetzt im Krieg gefallen. Einer ist zurückgekehrt. Quelle: Henry Habegger und Fabienne Riklin, “Rüstungsfirma des Bundes liefert Munition gegen IS-Terroristen“, Schweiz am Sonntag, 06.09.2013.

Posted in International, Iraq, Proliferation, Security Policy, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Benny Wenda: “West Papuans are living in a prison”

by Mischa Wilmers. Wilmers is an independent journalist based in Manchester covering social justice and international affairs. He has reported from the UK and South America for the Guardian, the Independent, New Internationalist, Deutsche Welle, Huffington Post, Equal Times, the Big Issue in the North, and the Santiago Times.

Benny Wenda is speaking to some British parliamentarian in October 2008.

Benny Wenda is speaking to some British parliamentarian in October 2008.

In episode 46 of Sea Control, Natalie Sambhi from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute talked with Dr. Peter McCawley and Dr. Ross Tapsell, both from the Australian College of Asia and the Pacific. In general 3rd Indonesian presidential election, held on July 9, shows a positive development in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Indonesia has still a long way to go. For example, as Indonesians prepared to vote for a new president, dozens of West Papuan activists were reportedly attacked by security forces for urging local people to boycott the elections. Mischa Wilmers speaks to the exiled leader of the Free West Papua movement, Benny Wenda, about his lifelong struggle for justice and asks why nobody is talking about the territory he calls “little South Africa”.

If someone were to describe a brutal military occupation of a region whose people are routinely attacked for demanding their right to self-determination, it’s unlikely Indonesia would spring to mind as the oppressor. The western media continuously fawns over the progress made by the world’s “third largest democracy” since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship 16 years ago, the dominant narrative being that expressed by David Cameron when he visited the country in 2012. “Indonesia has transformed itself in the past decade into one of the world’s most important democracies, with a free media and elections,” he declared. “The military no longer plays a role in politics, but fulfils its proper role defending the country from external attack.” (see also David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, “Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on Indonesia”, 18.04.2012).

Breaking the arms embargo
In his speech Cameron announced plans for Britain to break its arms embargo with Indonesia, imposed by Labour in 1998 following the revelation that British-built Hawk aircraft had been used by Suharto to slaughter the people of East Timor. The following day BAE Systems and other arms companies began trading with the country for the first time in over a decade.

To many West Papuans, however, the description of Indonesia as a responsible democracy with a benign military is wildly inaccurate. Last month, as 180 million Indonesians prepared to participate in the country’s presidential elections, dozens of activists in West Papua were reportedly arrested and beaten by security forces for handing out flyers urging local people not to vote. Despite the threat of violence the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) estimated that around 80% of eligible West Papuan voters chose to observe a peaceful boycott. All of this went virtually unreported in the international press.

This file photo shows a West Papuan separatist carrying the banned Morning Star flag as he walks past a line of Indonesian riot police officers surrounding a pro-independence celebration in Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

This file photo shows a West Papuan separatist carrying the banned Morning Star flag as he walks past a line of Indonesian riot police officers surrounding a pro-independence celebration in Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

Benny Wenda, the exiled leader of the Free West Papua movement, was among those leading calls for the boycott. Granted asylum in the UK in 2003 after being persecuted by the Indonesian authorities, he lives in Oxford but retains close contact with friends and family who constantly update him with news from the region. “My people are living in a prison and are discriminated against in many forms,” he protests, though the latest attacks are nothing new to Wenda who has been struggling to bring similar incidents to the attention of western governments for more than a decade. A search of the BBC website reveals just two articles referring to him – an indication of the lack of mainstream media interest in a region many in Britain have little or no knowledge of.

Yet his remarkable life story is worthy of far greater attention than it has received, serving as a poignant reminder of a forgotten colonial struggle spanning several decades of western backed exploitation and slaughter. He was born in the West Papuan highlands in the 1970s, several years after the “Act of Free Choice” – a vote to decide whether West Papua should relinquish its sovereignty – led to the annexation of the region by Suharto’s Indonesia. Despite the massacres that ensued, Wenda has fond memories of his early life in the highlands. “When I was a little boy I would play in the forest and help my mum in the garden. I didn’t have any fear, surrounded by nature,” he says, describing his short lived experience of childhood innocence.

The neglected genocide
In 1977 the military moved into his village, terrorising his family and raping his aunt in front of his eyes. In its recent report, “the neglected genocide,” the Asian Human Rights Commission estimates that at least 4,146 Papuans were killed between 1977 and 1978. As the UN stood by and did nothing, Benny’s village was one of those bombed by Indonesia following a rebellion by 15,000 highlanders. Those who survived fled to the jungle. “Our house was burned down and the Indonesian military were killing my people,” he recalls. “At the time I didn’t know what was going on but I just followed my mum and my dad. We tried to survive in the cold, at risk of malaria. I always asked ‘why did we leave our village? Why are we here?'”

Wenda and his family hid in the jungle for five years before eventually surrendering to the Indonesian military and returning to their village. Shortly afterwards they moved to Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, where Benny grew up. But the questions that plagued him in the jungle persisted throughout his adolescence and it wasn’t until he embarked on a sociology and politics degree course that he came to understand the historical context of his suffering. “I started looking back at what happened in my village and I started to discover who I am [...] I didn’t know any of the history.”

About 200 Papuan activists clash with police guarding a building housing the office of U.S. Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. in February 2006 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Many claim that the company has not brought any benefits to local residents during its 40 years of operations in West Papua (Photo: Ed Wray).

About 200 Papuan activists clash with police guarding a building housing the office of U.S. Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. in February 2006 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Many claim that the company has not brought any benefits to local residents during its 40 years of operations in West Papua (Photo: Ed Wray).

His search began in the university library in Jayapura where he quickly found that books on West Papua were heavily censored. Then, in 1999 a German student with an interest in indigenous cultures introduced him to the internet. Online he discovered that West Papua had been a Dutch colony until 1962 when control of the region was temporarily transferred to the UN. He read accounts describing how the Dutch had previously prepared West Papuans for independence and how in 1961 his forefathers had raised the Morning Star flag and sung the national anthem in anticipation of their sovereignty.

But the celebrations were premature. Eight years later the UN turned a blind eye as Suharto moved in and held a sham referendum in which 1,022 tribal elders were selected by special forces and coerced at gunpoint into voting for an Indonesian takeover. A month before the vote, Frank Galbraith, the American ambassador in Jakarta, wrote in a secret memo: “possibly 85 to 90% [of West Papuans] are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause.” The “Act of Free Choice” had in fact been an act of no choice.

What followed was the genocide Wenda witnessed as a child. It became apparent that over a period of three decades thousands of West Papuans had been massacred by Indonesia for the purpose of acquiring the region’s natural resources – including the world’s largest goldmine and third largest copper mine – all with the full support of Britain and the US. Armed with this knowledge he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to liberating his people from colonial rule.

15 years on he remains true to his word. Last year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and although he is unable to return to his homeland he has become a global symbol of the West Papuan cause – much to the chagrin of Indonesia’s ruling elites who launched an unsuccessful international arrest warrant for him in 2011. He has created a base for the Free West Papua movement in Oxford and has just opened a new office in Melbourne where he hopes to establish a strong presence despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott declaring that West Papuan activists are “not welcome” in Australia.

Exploitation is rife
Though the Suharto dictatorship which bombed Wenda’s village is gone, the current regime faces similar charges of exploiting the region for economic gain at the expense of West Papuans. According to the World Bank, Papua province’s regional GDP is 50% higher than the national average while the people living there are among the poorest in all of Oceania. Around 30% of West Papuans live in poverty – nearly triple Indonesia’s national average of 12%.

Accusations of exploitation are not solely aimed at Indonesia. British Petroleum which has invested billions of pounds in the construction and operation of gas plants in West Papua has been accused of destroying forests, polluting rivers and employing workers from outside the region rather than creating jobs for local people. “The British have a big investment in West Papua,” Wenda tells me, “they ignore my people and are operating in the middle of the genocide.”

The Grasberg Mine, located near Puncak Jaya in West Papua, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world (Photo: Kadir Jaelani).

The Grasberg Mine, located near Puncak Jaya in West Papua, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world (Photo: Kadir Jaelani).

Those who complain are dealt with harshly by security forces. In its latest annual World Report, Human Rights Watch states that violence and fatal attacks on protestors are commonplace and claims that 55 activists are presently incarcerated for their peaceful involvement in the independence movement. In July five political prisoners were released after serving three-year sentences in a Jayapura prison. Their only crime had been to read out a “declaration of independence” from Indonesia at a rally in 2011. But these stories rarely make it outside of West Papua – a situation which is not helped by the fact that foreign journalists are heavily restricted from entering the territory.

“500,000 West Papuans have been killed since the Indonesia occupation and nobody knows what is really happening because Indonesia is able to ban the Red Cross, Amnesty International and all the media so they can get away with murder and discrimination,” laments Wenda. “I call West Papua ‘little South Africa. The apartheid regime is the same as what Indonesia are doing.”

Hope for the future
Indonesia’s newly elected president, Joko Widodo, spoke in support of indigenous peoples in the lead up to the general election. But Wenda’s central demand is for Indonesia to respect West Papua’s right to self determination under international law. He argues that the only basis for Indonesia’s claim to the territory, the “Act of Free Choice,” has been thoroughly discredited and that his people must be permitted to determine their own future with a new, fair referendum. Indonesia continues to resist these demands while the UN remains silent despite urgent calls from human rights groups for a Special Representative to investigate the situation.

While the “international community” continues to ignore Indonesia’s abuses there is no doubting the magnitude of the task ahead for the Free West Papua movement. Yet Wenda appears remarkably positive, drawing inspiration from the likes of Gandhi and Mandela and from the experience of East Timor which obtained independence from Indonesia in 1999 – though not before a third of the population had been slaughtered.

The challenge is to capture the attention of the world before it’s too late.

“I’m doing it, I’m campaigning and I know something will happen in the future,” he says. “While my people are dying nobody can stop me. Not until they are free.”

Posted in English, Indonesia, Mischa Wilmers, Politics in General, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Sea Control 49 – General Robert Scales (Ret.) on Firepower

Matthew Hipple produced another very interesting episode of Sea Control. He discusses the topic “firepower” with retired U.S. Army major-general and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College Robert H. “Bob” Scales Jr. After his retirement, he worked as an analyst and founded with Colonel (Retired) Jack H. Pryorthe the defense consulting firm Colgen in 2003. In 1994, Scales published the book “Firepower in Limited War“, which shows the limitations of firepower in conflicts of low intensity. He analyses this problem through the example of the wars in Indochina, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Falklands War, and the Gulf War.

The U.S. military’s obsession on firepower is probably based on the American Civil War, where observers noticed an exceptional use of artillery fire. It seems that the U.S. military has a tendency to substitute manpower through firepower. Obviously this doesn’t work very well and today the importance of firepower is misplaced or overestimated. Certainly, if the artillery fires its rounds on surprised, unprotected or aggregated troops, the lethal effect will be staggering, but with protection, dispersing and camouflaging the effect will be minimal. This means that the high expectation of the possible achievements resulting of the bombing of ISIS in Northern Iraq is unfounded (see also John Kerry, “To Defeat Terror, We Need the World’s Help“, The New York Times, 29.08.2014). According to Scales the killing power of supporting fires is not related to the power of explosives, but to the number of explosive points – that is, why modern artillery is using cluster munition.

Listen to episode 49 for more information about firepower’s use, effectiveness, and place as a cultural phenomenon in American military thinking.

Listen to episode #49 immediately

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CIMSECThe Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in 2012 to bring together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain. Check out the NextWar blog to join the discussion. CIMSEC encourages a diversity of views and is currently accepting membership applications here.

Posted in English, Sea Control, Security Policy, Technology | 1 Comment

Schweizer Kampfjets – Filz, Skandale und Abstürze

Der einzige Prototyp des Schweizer Jagdbombers N-20.10 Aiguillon ("Stachel"), entwickelt 1951 von den Flug- und Fahrzeugwerken Altenrhein, ausgestellt im Flieger-Flab-Museum in Dübendorf.

Der einzige Prototyp des Schweizer Jagdbombers N-20.10 Aiguillon (“Stachel”), entwickelt 1951 von den Flug- und Fahrzeugwerken Altenrhein, ausgestellt im Flieger-Flab-Museum in Dübendorf.

Wer sich mit der Schweizer Militärgeschichte beschäftigt, der wird mit einigen – aus heutiger Sicht – eher erstaunlichen Eigenheiten konfrontiert. Da wäre beispielsweise das Reduit und die auch nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg noch gebauten Festungsanlagen; oder das Schweizer Kernwaffenprogramm und die damit verbundene Mirage-Affäre; oder das System BISON, bei dem von 23 projektierten 15,5 cm Festungskanone 93 L52 BISON schliesslich nur vier gebaut wurden (siehe auch Heinz Nüssle, “Schweiz ohne Kampfinfrastruktur“, ASMZ 177, Nummer 10, S. 20f).

In der Dokumentation des Schweizer Fernsehen von 2004 “Schweizer Kampfjets – Filz, Skandale und Abstürze” von Fritz Muri wird die Geschichte der Schweizer Kampfflugzeuge thematisiert inklusive der Eigenkonstruktionen N-20 und FFA P-16. Nach der Ablehnung des Fonds zur Beschaffung des Kampfflugzeugs Gripen E könnte doch das Eidgenössisches Departement für Verteidigung, Bevölkerungsschutz und Sport diese Pläne wieder aus der Schublade nehmen ;-).

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What is ISIS?

by Dr. Jack A. Goldstone. He is Hazel Professor of Public Policy, author of The New Population Bomb and co-editor of Political Demography: How Population Changes are Reshaping International Security and National Politics. His latest book is Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. This article was published on his blog about global economy and world politics at first.

Refugee children from the minority Yazidi sect make their way towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, on August 10, 2014 (Photo: Rodi Said / Reuters).

Refugee children from the minority Yazidi sect make their way towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, on August 10, 2014 (Photo: Rodi Said / Reuters).

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has emerged as the most terrifying and brutal of extreme jihadist groups (and that is against tough competition, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia). Why have such extreme Islamist groups emerged in so many places in recent years?

Odd as this may sound, it is not because of the appeal of extreme Islam itself. A study of fighters in Syria by Mironova, Mrie, and Whitt found that most fighters join ISIS and similar groups because (1) they want vengeance against the Assad regime and (2) they found from experience that the Islamist groups take the best care of their fighters — caring for the wounded, supporting them in battle. In situations of social breakdown — which are generally NOT caused by the Islamist groups themselves, but by problems of finances, elite divisions, and popular unrest due to oppressive or arbitrary actions by the state – extremists tend to have major advantages.

This has always been the case throughout the history of revolutions: moderates are usually outflanked and outmaneuvered and out-recruited by radicals; so much so that the triumph of radicals over moderates is a staple of academic work on the trajectory of revolutions, from Crane Brinton to my own.

Why does this occur? In situations of major social breakdown, involving violence, disorder, and the collapse of established institutions, moderates — whose main qualification was usually experience in, and command of, those now-collapsed institutions — simply do not have the resources to establish order, nor do they have the drive and discipline to start from scratch. Instead, they often are equally concerned about how to protect what remains of their position and wealth, and are distrustful of others competing for power.

Radicals, by contrast, start fresh. They draw on the inspiration of their ideological cause, but that is not what matters to others. What matters is that radicals are usually willing to make sacrifices, to embrace all supporters, and to build a new community to pursue their goals. They are the most zealous in pursuit of what people want and need in times of collapse: local order, discipline, a supportive community, and success in attacking perceived enemies.

Members loyal to the ISIS wave their flags as they drive around Raqqa ind June 29, 2014.

Members loyal to the ISIS wave their flags as they drive around Raqqa ind June 29, 2014.

Radicals thus add organizational power and discipline to their ideological message. It is the former, not the latter, that draws in followers. Yet the ideological message cannot be neglected; as I argued in my work on revolutions, once radicals are in power, that message shapes their post-revolutionary policies. Extremists in seeking power are often extremists in power, which makes them so dangerous. Moreover, those who initially join radical movements for discipline and community support are often indoctrinated and become convinced supporters of the radical cause.

ISIS is not just a terrorist or jihadist group; it is a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow governments to create a new regime that it views as more socially just (the Islamic caliphate) than the secular dictators it is fighting. It is interwoven with several other conflicts that it did not produce but that have given it the opportunity to thrive: that between Sunnis and others Iraqis for control of Iraq, a conflict that goes back to Saddam Hussein and was heightened by the US invasion and the civil war it unleashed; that between Sunnis and other Syrians for control of Syria, a conflict that goes back to the founding of the Assad dynasty and beyond; and that between Sunnis and Shias for control of the Middle East, a struggle that goes back over one thousand years but has recently been inflamed by struggles among Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Emirates for domination in the region. ISIS feeds off of all of these conflicts, and offers its followers a way to be powerful and secure amidst chaos.

This analysis indicates a three-fold approach to dealing with ISIS. First, military reprisals to blunt its success and undermine the feeling of invincibility it has given to its converts. These can only come from forces at least as well-organized and disciplined. However, at present the only such force in the region is the Kurdish Peshmerga; but this is a militia without heavy arms or air power and which has no ability to project power beyond the borders of its own enclave in northern Iraq. Thus external forces — the U.S., or NATO — must play a major role.


Second, the civil institutions that provide a power-base for moderate political organizations and their leaders must be rebuilt and given credibility. In Syria, this cannot happen until the Assad regime falls; in Iraq this cannot happen until a post-Maliki government establishes its credibility and effectiveness. And as long as the main support of the Iraqi government is Iran, with its policy of seeking a strongly Shia dominated and anti-Sunni regime in Iraq, no Iraqi government will gain credibility with the Sunnis of Iraq who support ISIS. Given that the Assad regime looks unlikely to topple given its support by Russia and Iran, and that Iran is unlikely to give up its goals to shape a friendly regime next door in Iraq, the prospects for the second step remain poor. This raises a huge strategic question for the U.S. — even if military intervention stops ISIS for now, how can the second phase of putting effective moderate regimes in power that will win supporters away from ISIS be accomplished?

Third, the ongoing Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East is fueling every sort of violent group: Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, and others. At some point, the global community will have to lean on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey to cease their proxy wars and come to an agreement similar to that of 1648 in Europe, which ended the Thirty Years War that capped over a century of religious conflicts: every country can control its religious policy within its own borders, but agrees to stop meddling in religious conflicts in other countries and to respect other countries’ full sovereignty. This may be a distant goal (it took nearly a century in Europe) but is vital if the region is ever to know stable peace.

economist-001In sum, America’s hasty retreat from Iraq left much unfinished business, which has now arisen in the form of the radical ISIS threat. To contain that threat will require both a coordinated military response, and the sustained effort to create credible and legitimate government institutions that the U.S. abandoned too soon. It may also require stronger efforts (air strikes similar to those aimed at ISIS) to undermine the Assad regime; as long as Assad remains in power radical jihadis will continue to seek vengeance for the acts he has already committed. Once the radical threat has been defeated, then efforts can advance on moderating broader Sunni-Shia conflicts in the region and developing a general framework for peace (which would include Israel and Palestine).

This sounds costly and time-consuming. It is; much as it took an international coalition to bring Napoleon to his Waterloo it will take an international coalition and sustained effort to bring down radical Islamist movements in the Middle East. Yet the lesson of history is that without this effort, we will see the rise of an increasingly powerful radical jihadist revolutionary state spreading across the entire Middle East. That is the present choice that our past choices have left us.

More information
Vera Mironova, Loubna Mrie, and Sam Whitt, “Islamists at a Glance: Why Do Syria’s Rebel Fighters Join Islamist Groups? (The Reasons May Have Less to Do With Religiosity Than You Might Think)“, Political Violence @ a Glance, 13.08.2014. Other preliminary survey results from their study are available from their website.

Posted in English, Iraq, Jack A. Goldstone, Security Policy, Syria, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Sicherheit lernen? – Wenn nicht jetzt, wann dann?

Von Danny Chahbouni. Danny studiert Geschichte und Politikwissenschaft an der Philipps-Universität Marburg.

Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck bei seiner Auftaktrede zur diesjährigen Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz. Quelle: Bundespräsidialamt

Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck bei seiner Auftaktrede zur diesjährigen Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz. Quelle: Bundespräsidialamt

Ukraine, Kaukasus, Naher Osten, Afrika und Asien – das Jahr 2014 entwickelt sich zu einem wirklichen Krisenjahr. Während um Deutschland herum die Welt in Brand gerät, bildet die deutsche Öffentlichkeit ein groteskes Bild ab: Zusätzlich zur vorherrschenden “ohne uns” Mentalität gesellt sich eine durch Politik und Medien geschürte Ablehnung gegen Deutschlands stärksten Verbündeten, die man bestenfalls als naiv bezeichnen kann. Das eigentliche Problem dabei ist, dass eine vernünftige Kommunikation der deutschen Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik niemals stattgefunden hat. Während in den Jahren der Ost-West-Konfrontation die – teilweise hysterische – Friedensbewegung das Meinungsmonopol inne hatte, wurde der Neubeginn in den 1990er Jahren verschlafen. Nachdem der Staatshaushalt zum eigentlichen Feind erklärt und die staatliche Sicherheitsarchitektur brachial ausgedünnt wurde, schien Deutschland es sich – umgeben von Freunden – gemütlich gemacht zu haben. Nun waren die 1990er Jahre keineswegs friedlich und die Bundeswehr war plötzlich neben Somalia, auch im ehemaligen Jugoslawien aktiv. Die großen Kontroversen begannen allerdings erst durch den Kosovokrieg und den Einsatz in Afghanistan. Mit jedem deutschen Gefallenen schien eine Frage besonders an Lautstärke zu gewinnen: Warum soll Deutschland Verantwortung übernehmen?

Deutschland zeigt zwar seit langem, dass es international verantwortlich handelt. Aber es könnte – gestützt auf seine Erfahrungen bei der Sicherung von Menschenrechten und Rechtsstaatlichkeit – entschlossener weitergehen, um den Ordnungsrahmen aus Europäischer Union, NATO und den Vereinten Nationen aufrechtzuerhalten und zu formen. Die Bundesrepublik muss dabei auch bereit sein, mehr zu tun für jene Sicherheit, die ihr von anderen seit Jahrzehnten gewährt wurde. — Joachim Gauck an der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz 2014, 31.01.2014.


Ein einfacher Politikwechsel bringt nichts
Wie sehr sich das Thema emotionalisiert hat, zeigte die Kontroverse um die Äußerungen des ehemaligen Bundespräsidenten Horst Köhler im Mai 2011, die schließlich zu seinem Rücktritt führte. Knapp drei Jahre später forderte Bundespräsident Joachim Gauck auf der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz mehr Engagement der Bundesrepublik. Die internationale Sicherheitslage hat sich seitdem massiv verschlechtert und zwingt die Bundesregierung quasi die mahnenden Worte in Taten umzusetzen – wenn auch nur sehr zaghaft.

Ein radikaler Politikwechsel wäre in der gegenwärtigen Lage allerdings kaum möglich und würde für jede Regierung einen politischen Selbstmord bedeuten. Zu groß wäre die Opposition und zu verständnislos die Öffentlichkeit für mehr Engagement oder stark erhöhte Verteidigungsetats. Die Lösung kann nicht kurzfristig sein, sondern nur in Gestalt eines langwierigen Prozesses gefunden werden. Dafür dürfen strategische Fragen nicht mehr Nischen-Themen sein, sondern müssen durch verstärkte Kommunikation und politische Bildungsarbeit in Schulen, Universitäten und gesellschaftlichen Institutionen, in die Mitte der Gesellschaft transportiert werden. Dabei muss das gesamte Spektrum eines umfassenden Sicherheitsbegriffs einbezogen werden, um möglichst sofort den Bezug zum Leben der Bürgerinnen und Bürger herzustellen.

"Bundeswehr raus aus den Schulen!" ist gemäss eigenen Angaben eine Kampagne der Linksjugend [ˈsolid] gegen die "Rekrutierungs- und Indoktrinationseinsätze von Jugendoffizieren und WehrdienstberaterInnen der Bundeswehr an Schulen". Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik sind jedoch trotzdem in den meisten Bundesländern Inhalt der Lehrpläne.

“Bundeswehr raus aus den Schulen!” ist gemäss eigenen Angaben eine Kampagne der Linksjugend [ˈsolid] gegen die “Rekrutierungs- und Indoktrinationseinsätze von Jugendoffizieren und WehrdienstberaterInnen der Bundeswehr an Schulen”. Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik sind jedoch trotzdem in den meisten Bundesländern Inhalt der Lehrpläne.

Sicherheitspolitik lernen – geht notfalls auch ohne Bundeswehr in Schulen
Die Berührungsängste mit dem Militär sind in Deutschland – nach wie vor – zu groß. Vor allem im Bereich der politischen Bildung an Schulen sind die Jugendoffiziere nicht selten Objekt emotionaler Debatten. Es braucht aber nicht unbedingt einen Jugendoffizier, um Jugendliche mit dem Thema vertraut zu machen. In den Lehrplänen bzw. Kerncurricula der meisten Bundesländern dürften sich entsprechende Lehreinheiten finden lassen. Seit der ersten Pisa-Studie geht der Trend in der Schulentwicklung dahin, von starren Lehrplänen mit festgefügten Inhalten abzukommen und stattdessen das Konzept der Kompetenzorientierung einzuschlagen. Die so erstellten Curricula definieren zwar Inhaltsfelder, die Lehrenden sind allerdings in der inhaltlichen Gestaltung ihres Unterrichts wesentlich freier. So besteht die Möglichkeit nach dem umfassenden Sicherheitsbegriff Themen aus verschiedenen Inhaltsfeldern zu kombinieren. Im Übrigen bietet sich nicht nur der Unterricht im Fach Politik oder Gemeinschaftskunde (je nachdem in welchem Bundesland man sich befindet) dafür an, sondern ebenso Geschichte, Religion, Ethik und vermutlich eine Reihe anderer Fächer. Das alles hängt natürlich davon ab, dass Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik durch die Lehrerinnen und Lehrer als Themenfelder identifiziert werden, welches für die heranwachsende Generation von massiver Bedeutung sein wird und einer intensiven und unvoreingenommenen Bearbeitung bedarf.

Eine Fülle von Unterrichtsmaterial ist dazu im Übrigen bereits vorhanden, ebenso wie eine ganze Reihe von Planspielen, die speziell für die Anwendung in Schulen konzipiert wurden.

Problembereich Universität
Da wo eigentlich kontroverse Ideen gedeien und lebhafte Diskussionen stattfinden sollten, herrscht zuweilen Desinteresse und große Intoleranz. Die Possen um die Einführung von Zivilklauseln und das praktische Nicht-Vorhandensein von Studiengängen für Sicherheitspolitik oder Strategische Studien sind bezeichnend für den Stellenwert, den man strategischen Fragen in Deutschland beimisst. Ohne couragierte Hochschullehrerinnen und – Lehrer und entsprechende politische Unterstützung wird in diesem Feld nur schwerlich etwas zu bewegen sein. Dabei wäre eine fundierte Auseinandersetzung mit sicherheitspolitischen Problemen nicht nur fachwissenschaftlich wünschenswert, sondern auch fachdidaktisch, um angehende Lehrerinnen und Lehrer darauf vorzubereiten, diese Themen ihren Schülern näher zu bringen.

Salutzug der BundeswehrUngenutzte Potenziale nutzen
Die Sicherheitsarchitektur in Deutschland steht auf verschiedenen Säulen: Dazu gehören neben Bundeswehr, Nachrichtendiensten und Polizei auch der Bevölkerungsschutz. Theoretisch betrachtet stellt der Bevölkerungsschutz als Bereich der zivilen Verteidigung ein Bindeglied zur Innenpolitik, wobei der gesamte Komplex sozialwissenschaftlich ein unbeackertes Feld darstellt. Dabei hat man es mit einem gewaltigen Personalpool von weit über einer Millionen Menschen zu tun, die sich in verschiedenen staatlichen und privaten Organisationen engagieren. Hinzu kommen die Jugendverbände der Hilfsorganisationen. Wo sonst besteht die Möglichkeit eine große Zahl an Menschen, die sich ohnehin bereits in einer besonderen Stellung zwischen Staat und Gesellschaft befinden, zu erreichen und mit ihnen ins Gespräch zu kommen. Wie nicht anders zu erwarten, sieht die Realität jedoch nicht besonders vielversprechend aus. Publikationen und Veranstaltungsformate, die ihren Fokus nicht nur auf rechtliche und technische Fragen richten, fehlen hier fast gänzlich. Sicherheitspolitische Bildung, in der personell größten Säule der Sicherheitsarchitektur, findet nicht statt und Fortbildungen und Seminare an der Akademie für Krisenmanagement, Notfallplanung und Zivilschutz (AKNZ) sind nur einem winzigem Kreis von hauptamtlichen Mitarbeitern zugänglich. Das Feld bleibt weiterhin unbestellt und die Chance, einen so großen und vielfältigen Personalpool, im Sinne eines ganzheitlichen Sicherheitsbegriffs in die Debatte einzubeziehen, wird nicht genutzt. Die Gründe dafür können bestenfalls gemutmaßt werden: Glauben die Verantwortlichen vielleicht, dass sie Menschen verschrecken könnten, wenn Sie ihnen die Wichtigkeit ihres Dienstes für die Sicherheit der Bundesrepublik vor Augen führen?

Das alles könnten Startpunkte sein, für einen Prozess, an dessen Ende die Entstehung einer strategischen Kultur, einer positiven Versicherheitlichung, wenn man so will, stehen sollte. Nicht alle globalen Herausforderungen werden sich immer mit friedlichen Mitteln lösen lassen, wie die mordenden ISIS-Kämpfer im Irak der Welt einmal mehr schmerzlich vor Augen führen. Deutschland wird gefordert und wie das Einlenken der Bundesregierung in puncto Waffenlieferungen zeigt, scheint sich diese Einsicht langsam auch auf höchster politischer Ebene breit zu machen. Zahlen muss im Endeffekt der Steuerzahler, weshalb es nur gerecht wäre, wenn von politischer Seite auch alles getan würde, um den Menschen zu erklären, warum Deutschland diese Kosten tragen muss und warum deutsche Soldaten dabei ihr Leben in Gefahr bringen werden. Ein verstärktes Engagement wird ebenso mehr Feinde in der Welt zur Folge haben. Auch das muss man den Menschen kommunizieren und alles nötige tun, um Selbtschutz und Notfallvorsorge in der Bundesrepublik weiter zu stärken. Gerade vor diesem Hintergrund wäre es in höchstem Maße verantwortungslos, nicht in naher Zukunft den politischen Willen zu zeigen, die Initiative zu ergreifen und “Sicherheit” vom Expertenthema in die Mitte der Gesellschaft zu holen.

Posted in Danny Chahbouni, Security Policy | Leave a comment

The United States and the Chaotic Middle East

by Dr. Gawdat Bahgat. Dr. Bahgat is professor of National Security Affairs at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study. He is an Egyptian-born specialist in Middle Eastern policy, particularly Egypt, Iran, and the Gulf region. His areas of expertise include energy security, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counter-terrorism, Arab-Israeli conflict, North Africa, and American foreign policy in the Middle East.

This article was published on International Relations and Security Network (ISN) of the Center for Security Studies (CSS), at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) first. ISN is one of the world’s leading open access information services for both professionals and students who focus on international relations and security studies. It is jointly funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports and ETH Zurich.

How can the United States safeguard its strategic interests in the Middle East? Gawdat Bahgat believes it needs to 1) give Arab countries the space they need to resolve their internal problems, and 2) pursue closer ties with the region’s three non-Arab “peripheries” – Israel, Turkey and Iran.

A US Marine covers the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's statue with the US flag in Baghdad's al-Fardous square 09 April 2003 (Photo: Ramzi Haidar / AFP / Getty Images).

A US Marine covers the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s statue with the US flag in Baghdad’s al-Fardous square 09 April 2003 (Photo: Ramzi Haidar / AFP / Getty Images).

In the aftermath of the Second World War the United States emerged as a superpower with global economic, security, and strategic interests. Meanwhile, the old European colonial powers (mainly Britain and France) gradually saw their prominent status in the international system wane. In the Middle East this key shift in the global balance of power meant that Washington replaced London and Paris as the main foreign power. In the past six decades the United States has been perceived in the region as rival, enemy and/or ally and occasionally a mixture of all.

Interestingly, US goals in the Middle East have been consistent, with little, if any, change. US oil production peaked in the early 1970s, and the United States became increasingly dependent on cheap and secure oil supplies from the Middle East. Private US oil companies have played a major role in oil discovery and exploitation in several Middle Eastern countries, and, at the same time, the United States has been a recipient of billions of petro-dollars of investment. The huge arms deals between Washington and Persian Gulf Arab states in the past several decades have cemented the strategic partnership between the two sides.

The security of Israel and the on-going peace process between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors have been major US goals in the Middle East. In the past several decades every US administration has spent substantial time, effort, and domestic political capital on the Arab-Israeli conflict and peace process. Secretary of State John Kerry has spent more time working on an Israeli-Palestinian agreement more than on any other issue. These efforts, however, have failed to bridge the huge gap between the two sides’ vision of a peaceful solution.

In addition to these two fundamental goals – cheap and secure oil supplies and Arab-Israeli peace – the United States has pursued other important goals. The 9/11 attacks reinforced counter-terrorism as a main priority of US foreign policy in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Similarly, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has been a major US objective for decades. The tension over Iran’s nuclear program in recent years has further underscored the prominence of non-proliferation.

In pursuing these four broad objectives of oil, Arab-Israeli peace, counter-terrorism, and non-proliferation, Washington has relied on key Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as partners. The former is the Arab world’s largest economy and the latter is the region’s most populous country. The United States has different policy and strategy aims with two other major Arab countries, Syria and Iraq. For most of its modern history Syria has been a close ally of the Soviet Union and later Russia. The US occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2011 is one of the longest wars in the United States history and entailed substantial human and financial costs. Generally, US ties with these major Arab countries have been based more on perceived national interests than on common values.

Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, hold a poster featuring the head of Egypt's armed forces General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013 (Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters).

Protesters, who are against Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, hold a poster featuring the head of Egypt’s armed forces General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013 (Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters).

The three non-Arab Middle Eastern states of Iran, Israel, and Turkey have had unique relations with Washington. Shared Judeo-Christian values are the core of the US-Israeli alliance. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has long been seen by the United States as a model for other Muslim countries to follow in accommodating Islam with liberal democracy and a free-market economy. Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran has been seen as the main US adversary in the Middle East, accused of sponsoring terrorism and seeking nuclear weapons. The nuclear deal signed in November 2013 between Iran and major global powers, however, represents a potential game-changer in relations between Washington and Tehran. There is no guarantee of success. However, the intense hostility between the two nations is likely to be addressed by diplomatic means than military threats. In short, the telephone call between President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani might have started a new chapter in relations between the two nations. Time will tell.

The sweeping security and political upheavals in the Arab world since 2011 and the substantially improved US energy outlook due to technological innovations suggest two opposing US strategies. First, American leadership and active diplomacy is essential. The fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the on-going civil war in Syria illustrate the high cost of lack of US leadership. On the other side, the recent military gains by Iraqi and Kurdish forces against the Islamic State fighters underscore the difference an active American role can make. Second, the US policy in the Arab world has been proven costly and ineffective. Washington should play a less active role and give major Arab countries the space they need to sort out their domestic and foreign policies and focus on the strong ties it already has with Israel and Turkey and address the major differences is has with Iran. The political values of these three Middle East “peripheries”, Israel, Turkey, and Iran, are closer to US values when compared to other nations in the region.

The United States and the Arab World
Certainly, US policy in the Arab world has varied from country to country and has experienced ups and downs in the past half century. In the past several decades Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been seen as the pillars of US policy in the region, but this is now changing.

For more than seven decades Saudi Arabia has been one of the closest allies the United States has in the Middle East and the Islamic World. Several economic and strategic interests are at stake in this relationship, including oil supplies, Persian Gulf security, and the containment of militant Islam. These mutual interests aside, Washington and Riyadh have recently taken different positions on a number of regional disputes. In recent years the kingdom has exported more oil to China than to the United States. Several US government agencies and members of Congress frequently criticize Saudi record on human rights, particularly religious freedom and the status of women. In February 2011 Saudi leaders strongly expressed their dismay of what they perceived as the US abandoning President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Similarly US criticized Saudi military intervention in Bahrain.

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz of Saudi Arabia at Rawdat Khuraim in March 2014.

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz of Saudi Arabia at Rawdat Khuraim in March 2014.

Washington and Riyadh also strongly disagree over Syria and Iran (see also Khaled al-Dakhil, “Washington, Riyadh Divided Over Iran’s Role in Syria Solution“, Al-Monitor, 18.09.2013). The United States has been concerned over what it perceives as Saudi support to Jihadists and other extremist groups fighting the Bashar Al-Assad regime. On the other hand, the kingdom has strongly urged the Obama administration to take military action against Assad and provide military assistance to the rebels. Finally, Riyadh has little trust in the US-Iran negotiation over Tehran’s nuclear program. Some Saudi officials and analysts have expressed concerns that a US-Iran deal might be at the expense of their country. To sum up, in recent years there has been a growing trust deficit between Washington and Riyadh.

The current status of US relations with another key Arab ally, Egypt, is in a similar state. Unlike Saudi Arabia, which has been a close Western ally since its establishment in 1932, Egypt adopted a pro-Soviet policy after the monarchy was toppled in 1952. The fast toppling of President Mubarak in February 2011 took the United States and many other countries by surprise. After some hesitation, President Obama called on President Mubarak to step down, and the United States pushed for credible and free elections. Washington adopted a businesslike approach toward the Muslim Brotherhood. Since 2013 the Egyptian authorities have ignored US pressure and requests and moved ahead, arresting and charging Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including former president Mohamed Morsi. The military resents what it perceives as US meddling in Egypt’s domestic affairs. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, accuses Washington of not exerting enough pressure to prevent or end the military takeover and the toppling of President Morsi. In short, by late 2013 a large number of Egyptian activists, the government, and the Muslim Brotherhood resented the US role.

To sum up, major Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, among others, are going through a potentially prolonged period of political and economic instability. Imposing reform from the outside is not likely to succeed; it has not so far. Given the Arab world’s unique culture and history, the Arab people will choose the path and direction of reform, at some stage, but at their own velocity. US efforts to influence or shape the process have largely proven unproductive.

United States and the Peripheries
The three non-Arab Middle Eastern countries – Iran, Israel, and Turkey – have historically been called “the peripheries”, because they sit on the edges of the region’s Arab countries, which, with more than 300 million people, undoubtedly represent the heart of the Middle East. US relations with Iran, Israel, and Turkey and the relations between and among these three powers have fundamentally changed in the past several decades.

arab_spring-002In the aftermath of the political and security upheavals in the Arab world from early 2011, the regional strategic landscape has fundamentally changed. Rather than Soviet penetration, the current threat is broad socioeconomic and political instability. As regional powers with relatively higher levels of stability than their neighbors, Iran, Israel, and Turkey see both opportunities and challenges in the upheavals on their borders. The United States shares similar sentiments. Washington has traditionally enjoyed close ties with two of the three peripheries, Israel and Turkey. The 1979 Revolution represented a turning point in the relations between the United States and Iran.

After decades of tension between Washington and Tehran, suspicion over Iran’s nuclear program pushed the two countries to the brink of confrontation. The process and outcome of electing President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 has presented an opportunity for rapprochement. Rouhani was considered the most pragmatic candidate and was supported by the majority of moderates and reformers. He also enjoys full support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The signing of an interim agreement on the nuclear dispute between Iran and the global powers (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany) in November 2013 potentially could start a new chapter in the relations between Tehran and Washington.

The Way Forward
The on-going political and economic turmoil in several major Arab countries has highlighted the dilemma the United States and other countries face in the broader region. A policy driven by perceived national interests with less attention to transparency and democratic values has proven ineffective and costly. In most Arab countries, both governments and their opponents reject foreign intervention. Indeed, less foreign intervention by the United States and other powers is likely to help Arab countries to determine their future without blaming foreign powers.

Meanwhile, the three peripheries of Iran, Israel, and Turkey enjoy a higher level of political and economic stability than most of their neighbors. In addition to maintaining good relations with Israel and Turkey, the United States can take the opportunity to reduce tension with Iran and help it to be reacclimatized and reintegrated into the regional and global systems. Good US relations with the three peripheries should not be seen as coming at the expense of the heart of the Middle East, the Arab world. The zero-sum policy and mentality should be replaced by a win-win approach.

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The vulnerability of post-heroic societies

by Hans Bachofner. Bachofner, born in 1931, received his doctorate in law from the University of Zurich. As a career army officer, he ultimately became Chief of Staff of Operational Training with the rank of Major General and was a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. He died in 2012. This article was published in 2006 in German in “Schweizer Monat“, a Swiss political, economic, and cultural magazine. We are grateful to be permitted to exclusively publish this translated version (translated by We hope it will contribute to our discussion about Europe’s weakness (read also “The Geopolitical Crisis” by Sid Lukkassen and “America Has Itself to Blame for Europe’s Weakness” by Nick Ottens).

Heroic societies are held together by honour and sacrifice. Based on experience, they are more successful and robust in violent disputes than post-heroic societies, which are characterised by law, trading, pursuit of prosperity, and peacefulness. This constitutes a fundamental threat to peaceful civil societies.

Hercules. Gilded bronze, Roman artwork, 2nd century BC.

Hercules. Gilded bronze, Roman artwork, 2nd century BC.

Post-heroic societies can be identified by the disappearance of the fighter who acquires honour through great willingness to make sacrifices. There is no doubt that Americans and Europeans, including the Swiss, are among the post-heroic societies. They have high regard for the trader, not the hero, according to a distinction made by Werner Sombart. Post-heroic societies have overcome interstate war for the purpose of dispute resolution; patriotic sacrifice and endurance of suffering have been eroded and are only maintained in rhetoric and rituals. Their soldiers are peacekeepers on humanitarian missions; if they fight, they do so without loss to their own side. Their governments assert again and again that they never want to endanger the lives of their own soldiers. Their playing fields are peacekeeping and asymmetric war from a position of strength. Their tools are the satellite-guided cruise missile, the missile submarine, and bombing from high altitudes. The opportunities to kill and to die are distributed completely unevenly. Technologically superior weapons replace the readiness to die. Military tasks that were once typical are outsourced. Private military companies acting in lawless spaces, mercenaries, “green card-soldiers” (foreigners who are permitted to acquire citizenship after a few years of military service), and volunteers of all kinds replace citizen soldiers. The mentality of buying freedom: you pay and let others shoot. The personal weapon in the closet of free and responsible citizens becomes a nightmare.

Two experiences led us to this post-heroic stage: the monstrous sacrifice of mass heroism in World War I, and the misuse of the terms “honour” and “sacrifice” driven by totalitarian regimes in World War II. There is also demographic development. One-child families have a very different relationship to the loss of sons in the service of a nation than families with six or more children and a high child mortality rate.

Self-destruction and de-heroisation in the wake of the two world wars have had a lasting effect. We are happy to put peace above everything, to consider human life as the supreme good, and to strive for prosperity in globalised openness. We have a huge learning process behind us. Going back is not an option. The best case, the expansion of the European desire for peace in the whole world, has not occurred. The most likely scenarios of possible development all contain an abundance of rivalries, power struggles, armed conflicts, and wars. A particularly bad case is the emergence of an enemy that thwarts the technological superiority and overcomes the peaceful, life-loving societies of the West. The question we fear is: can post-heroic societies survive colliding with heroic groups? Is the new terrorism an indication of the beginning of a worst case scenario?

The partisan, who was once the typical representative of asymmetric weakness, is now the terrorist, in particular the suicide bomber. Guerrilla war was defensive, the war of terror is offensive. It takes place on the enemy’s territory. It does not need the support of the population. It uses the complex and slightly vulnerable infrastructure of the enemy and carries out a real war of devastation. The new terrorism does not target individuals, politicians, business leaders, and law enforcement agencies; instead it targets public opinion, the psychological structure of society. Highly symbolic buildings, suburban trains, holiday hotels, buses: the randomness of the victim selection is intended to spread worldwide fear and terror (hence “terrorism”) with the help of the sensation-obsessed media, create uncertainty, destroy confidence in the future, tire and wear people down. The murdered people are not the target, rather the survivors are, every one of us. It is a sign of ignorance of modern terror when it is alleged that, for example, the Swiss people are not a target. Our self-confidence, our sense of security, our psyche, even our security portfolios are also in the sights when attacks are perpetrated abroad. Today, the Internet is the most popular means for recruiting, leading, and training terrorists.

This file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 7, 2014 shows a convoy of vehicles and ISIS fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province. With pictures like this - and also with the horrible video of the murder of James Wright Foley - ISIS, like other terrorist groups, target the people through the possibilities of modern communication.

This file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 7, 2014 shows a convoy of vehicles and ISIS fighters in Iraq’s Anbar Province. With pictures like this – and also with the horrible video of the murder of James Wright Foley – ISIS, like other terrorist groups, target the people through the possibilities of modern communication.

The asymmetrically weak person, the terrorist, has a very different relationship with time and space than the opponent, who is looking for a defined territory to dominate (Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon), and is in a hurry. The costs of war are enormous for the opponent, the patience of his own population is limited; without rapid victory, the legitimacy of political and military leaders quickly fades. The asymmetrically fighting weak person knows no defined territory. He is omnipresent as a network. He is no longer based in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, in the capitals of the Western world, in the Islamic arc of crisis from Morocco to Indonesia. He has time and does not need much money, he makes pinpricks and evades every decision. Acceleration and deceleration of processes indicate on which side the advantages and disadvantages are and which way the decision tends towards. These wars do not end with compromises and peace treaties. Military forces have to learn the hard lesson that they can win all the battles as the technologically superior party in every respect and yet still lose the war. As we have known at the latest since Vietnam, it does not depend on tactical and operational successes, but instead on reaching strategic goals.

In the worst case scenario, the terrorist threat may become parallel with the rapid development of missile technology and the slow end of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Strategic precautions now require thinking about the time after the NPT regime. We are on the way to a multi-polar world disorder with numerous large, small, and very small owners of weapons of mass destruction. The nuclear structure of the five nuclear powers and Security Council members, which was stable for decades, is decaying. North Korea, Iran, Israel, India, and Pakistan are the centre of attention. The list of contenders with their own nuclear weapons is long. Among them are also rogue states, non-state actors, and terrorist organisations. Mutual deterrence due to possible counter attacks and the guarantee of stability of the bipolar symmetric cold war is becoming untenable. The strategic masterminds are just now starting to deal with this new world; politics and diplomacy are falling far behind, and even the military is more concerned with problems on this side of the backstop. We need new regional monitoring systems, missile defences, preparations for evacuating densely populated urban centres, a dense, well-equipped network for measuring radiation, shelters, well-trained civil defence organisations, prepared medical services, a new arms control, and above all, we need respect for this new type of threat – and expert knowledge of it. We do not need alarmism and artificial fear psychosis, but sober education and a lot of practical exercise in using all state funds for precautions and aftercare, as well as material readiness.

Preparedness: The soldiers of Company F "Blues Platoon," 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, move forward, almost shoulder to shoulder, with live ammo while practicing team movement drills at an Advanced Close Quarters Marksmanship (ACQM) course at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, May 13, 2009. The ACQM course was meant to sharpen the Soldiers skills before moving north to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Preparedness: The soldiers of Company F “Blues Platoon,” 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, move forward, almost shoulder to shoulder, with live ammo while practicing team movement drills at an Advanced Close Quarters Marksmanship (ACQM) course at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, May 13, 2009. The ACQM course was meant to sharpen the Soldiers skills before moving north to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We do not yet have a secure [strategic] missile defence. After years of expensive research and development, a Pentagon employee recently [(as of: 2006)] had to declare: “There is simply not much we can do against missiles except for controlling the launch area or going to the bunker.” The Lebanon war was also a missile war. The imprecise Hezbollah short-range missiles were ridiculed unjustly. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. They were not intended to hit point-targets, but instead uninvolved civilians who happened to be there (see also Jassem Al Salami, “Rockets and Iron Dome, the Case of Lebanon“,, 05.08.2014). The mental state of Israel was hit, as well as – via the consciously controlled media – the whole world. Europe needs to wake up. North Korea is far away, but the Iranian missiles are on our doorsteps. Trade in missile technology must be strictly prevented.

The dialogue of international law lags behind development. The arsenal of missiles (air-to-air, air-to-ground, ground-to-air, ground-to-ground, mobile on trucks and ships, long-, medium-, and short-range missiles, warheads with conventional charges or weapons of mass destruction, multiple warheads, guided missiles, high-speed drones, and much more) is large and varied and so widespread that the armed forces would do well to adapt their doctrine, organisation, and equipment. Military airfields and logistics centres are missile targets; the civilian population is even more vulnerable.

There is no cause for despair when dealing with the worst possible cases. The current strategic worst cases are still more harmless than what we have behind us. In an extensive nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, 160 to 180 million people would have been killed within 24 hours (the numbers are from Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was at the source at the time). The chance of falling victim to a terrorist attack is vanishingly small. The main danger is the loss of faith in the future, of self-certainty, of the joy of participation. Strategic considerations for the worst case are not forecasts, but thinking aids for taking precautions.

For four years I was responsible for coordinating the U.S. response in the event of a nuclear attack. And I can assure you that a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union on a comprehensive scale would have killed 160 to 180 million people within 24 hours. No terrorist threat is comparable to that in the foreseeable future. Moreover, terrorism is essentially a technique of killing people and not the enemy as such. If one wages war on an invisible, unidentifiable phantom, one gets into a state of mind that virtually promotes dangerous exaggerations and distortions of reality. — Zbigniew Brzezinski cited in Hans Hoyng and Georg Mascolo, “SPIEGEL Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski: ‘Victory Would be a Fata Morgana’“, Spiegel, 12.09.2006.

Even post-heroic societies need a basic foundation of heroic values. Without willingness to sacrifice, without heroes, such systems, which are used to purchasing services with money, do not survive either. The Swiss-style militia soldier supports this idea, in as do the police, fire, and civil defence. People care about him. His reward is not his wages, but the recognition and attention. With the ability to defend, we [(Switzerland)] lose the ability to survive as a small state. Affiliation with majorities, alliances, large anonymous organisations is tempting at any time, but wrong. People think they are trading freedom for security, but they are drawn into the adventures of others. NATO in Afghanistan, the EU in the Congo, the UN in Sudan: if you look behind the curtain, you’ll see abysses. The mania for also sending a few non-combatant Swiss soldiers everywhere does not lead to more prestige, but to contempt.

With the new images of war, the radically altered strategic situation also calls for a new image of soldiers. There are growing signs that more “real soldiers” (Ehud Olmert) are required again. The “miles protector” must be replaced with the “miles pugnator,” the fighter. Even the civilian citizens must change. They must know that they are the target of the attacks, rarely physically, but always psychologically. They must acquire great composure; a “heroic composure,” as it was called following the London bombings. Attacks are not worth it if citizens react coolly and calmly, if the economy cannot be intimidated, and the media remain moderate. The physical damage can be reduced by judicious precautions, through structural measures, surveillance, decentralisation, redundancy, and delegation of responsibility. Well-managed companies, organisations, and governments are prepared for attacks.

We [(Switzerland)] need composure, determination, special forces with adequate equipment and a high level of training, and decision-makers in the federal government, in the cantons, and in the municipalities who know their duties and powers jointly. The danger of missile wars and weapons of mass destruction must be reasoned out, played through in exercises, illustrated to those in positions of responsibility and to citizens in all sobriety and then tackled. Only passive protection is currently possible for the small state. If it does not have this, confidence will be shaken at the first incident. The question posed at the beginning regarding the ability of post-heroic societies to survive clashing with heroic groups can be answered: yes, they will survive – if they are able to sacrifice, if they stay calm and decisive, if they prepare and take precautions, if they do not lose the will to self-affirmation, freedom, and independence.


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