NATO & Trump: relationship status – complicated

von Patrick Truffer (English version). Patrick Truffer absolviert momentan ein Masterstudiengang in Internationale Beziehungen an der Freien Universität Berlin.

Die Agenda des NATO-Gipfeltreffens der Staats- und Regierungschefs der Mitgliedsstaaten am Donnerstag, 25. Mai 2017 stellte sich überschaubar dar: Stärkung der Bekämpfung des Terrorismus, Diskussionen über die Verteidigungsausgaben, Einweihung des neuen 1,1 Milliarden Euro teuren NATO Hauptquartiers in Brüssel, wo das Gipfeltreffen auch durchgeführt wurde, und der Empfang der neuen Staats- und Regierungschefs wie beispielsweise die britische Ministerpräsidentin Theresa May, der französische Staatspräsident Emmanuel Macron und natürlich der U.S.-Präsident Donald Trump. Das erste Mal überhaupt war der Ministerpräsident Montenegros, Duško Marković, an einem NATO-Gipfeltreffen, denn Montenegro wird am 5. Juni 2017 als 29. Mitglied in die NATO aufgenommen. Ziel der Übung: Einigkeit demonstrieren. Doch Trump lies die NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten alles andere als einig aussehen.

Während des Präsidentschaftswahlkampfs kritisierte Trump die NATO: Nach dem Zusammenbruch des Warschauer Pakts erfülle das Verteidigungsbündnis nicht mehr den ursprünglich angedachten Zweck und die damit verbundenen Kosten seien für die USA zu hoch – insbesondere im Vergleich zu den übrigen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten. Als Präsident würde er ein Rückzug der USA aus der NATO in Betracht ziehen, sollte sich das Bündnis nicht restrukturieren, den Kampf gegen den Terrorismus nicht aktiver unterstützen sowie die Kosten nicht gerechter verteilt (D’Angelo Gore, “What’s Trump’s Position on NATO?“, FactCheck.org, 11.05.2016). Nach erfolgter Wahl zum U.S.-Präsidenten versuchte sein Vizepräsident Mike Pence die Wogen an der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz zu glätten: “The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance.” Gleichzeitig unterstrich er die Forderung nach einer ausgewogeneren Lastenverteilung: “The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long, and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance. When even one ally fails to do their part, it undermines our ability to come to each other’s aid. […] Let me be clear on this point, the President of the United States expects our allies to keep their word to fulfill this commitment, and for most that means the time has come to do more.”

Die Prioritäten Trumps wurden auch beim Treffen mit dem NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg Mitte April deutlich. Trump honorierte die Funktion der NATO während des Kalten Krieges, sieht aber die jetzige und zukünftige Rolle des Verteidigungsbündnisses primär in der Bekämpfung des internationalen Terrorismus und in der Verhinderung von Migrationsströmen. Konkret erwartet er, dass die NATO sich aktiv bei der Bekämpfung der Terrororganisation Islamischer Staat (IS) und bei der Beendigung des Bürgerkriegs in Syrien einsetzt. Ausserdem müsse wie vereinbart jeder NATO-Mitgliedsstaat mindestens 2% des Bruttoinlandsprodukts (BIP) in die Verteidigung investieren. Gemäss seiner Logik hätten die NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten sogar noch offene Rechnungen zu begleichen: Den Differenzbetrag zu den 2% des BIP, welche sie die letzten Jahre nicht aufgebracht hätten.

Mr President, I thank you for your attention to this issue. We are already seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of fair burden-sharing in the Alliance. — NATO-Generalsekretär Jens Stoltenberg

Auch wenn es Trump kaum kümmern wird: Seine Überlegungen zum letzten Punkt sind falsch. Die 2%-Vorgabe basiert auf einen nicht bindenden Richtwert, welcher 2006 am NATO-Gipfeltreffen in Riga von den Mitgliedsstaaten beschlossen wurde. Diese Regel wurde im NATO-Gipfeltreffen im Herbst 2014 in Wales noch einmal bekräftigt: Bis 2024 wollen alle NATO Mitgliedssstaaten 2% des BIP in ihre Verteidigung investieren. Bei dieser Erklärung handelte es sich jedoch mehr um ein politisches denn ein realistisches Versprechen – deshalb gibt es auch hier keine bindende Verpflichtung (Jan Techau, “The Politics of 2 Percent: NATO and the Security Vacuum in Europe“, Carnegie Europe, 02.09.2015). Problematisch ist jedoch, dass ausgerechnet Stoltenberg Trump an der gemeinsamen Pressekonferenz in Washington gepriesen hat. Dank seiner Kritik hätte Trump die faire Lastenverteilung zu einem Hauptthema gemacht. Stoltenberg ging sogar soweit zu behaupten, dass dadurch bereits die ersten positiven Effekte ersichtlich seien (“Joint Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the United States, Donald Trump“, NATO, 13.04.2017).

Diplomatically, [Trump’s] speech was inept at best and deliberately insulting at worst. — Jeff Rathke, deputy director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Natürlich handelt es sich dabei um “beschwichtigende Diplomatensprache”, doch für Trump ist Diplomatie eine Fremdsprache. Mit anderen Worten: Stoltenberg hat Trump ungewollt in seiner Rolle als Geldeintreiber der NATO bekräftigt. Die an die anderen Staats- und Regierungschefs gerichtete Kritik während der Ansprache zu Ehren des 9/11 Denkmals im NATO Hauptquartier, sie kämen gegenüber der NATO ihren finanziellen Verpflichtungen nicht nach, überrascht also nicht. Dies brachte ihm zusammen mit der ausgelassene Bekräftigung der Artikel 5 Beistandspflicht jedoch wenig Sympathien von den anderen Staats- und Regierungschefs ein (Rosie Gray, “Trump Declines to Affirm NATO’s Article 5“, The Atlantic, 25.05.2017).

Dabei gaben sich die übrigen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten offensichtlich Mühe, dem neuen U.S.-Präsidenten zu gefallen. Nicht nur wurde ein weiter Bogen um die Problematik “Russland” gemacht, bereits vor dem NATO-Gipfel wurde auf eine der Prioritäten Trumps eingegangen: Die NATO gab bekannt, der U.S.-geführten Koalition zum Kampf gegen den IS beizutreten. Es handelt sich primär um eine symbolische Geste, denn viele NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten und NATO-Partner sind bereits Teil der Koalition und unterstützen direkt den Kampf gegen den IS. Seit dem letzten Gipfeltreffen unterstützt die NATO die Koalition mit moderner Radar- und Kommunikationstechnik ausgestatteten AWACS-Flugzeugen, was noch zusätzlich ausgeweitet werden soll. Ausserdem unterhält die NATO eine Ausbildungsmission im Irak. Ein direkter Kampfeinsatz ist jedoch nicht geplant (“Kampf gegen den Terror: Nato tritt Anti-IS-Koalition bei“, NZZ, 25.05.2017). Darüber hinaus wollen die NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten mit einem neu geschaffenen Koordinator zur Bekämpfung des Terrorismus ihre Anstrengungen in diesem Bereich besser bündeln.

Auch bezüglich der Erreichung einer ausgewogeneren Lastenverteilung hat sich etwas bewegt. Jeder Mitgliedsstaat soll eine individuelle Planung einreichen, welche drei Fragen beantworten soll:

  1. Wie wird das Ziel erreicht, 2% des BIP zur Verteidigung aufzuwenden und dabei mindestens 20% des Geldes in neues Equipment zu investieren?
  2. Welche zusätzlichen finanziellen Mittel werden direkt in Schlüsselsystemen der NATO investiert?
  3. Welcher Beitrag wird bei den NATO-Missionen, Operationen und weiteren Einsätzen geleistet.

Die ersten Planungsdokumente sollen im Dezember vorliegen und im Februar nächsten Jahres von den Verteidigungsministern begutachtet werden.

Die Zeiten, in denen wir uns auf andere völlig verlassen konnten, die sind ein Stück vorbei. Das habe ich in den letzten Tagen erlebt. […] Wir Europäer müssen unser Schicksal in unsere eigene Hand nehmen. — Deutsche Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel

Fazit
Der NATO-Gipfel in Brüssel wurde als kleines, kurzes Treffen konzipiert bei dem es in erster Linie darum ging, den neuen U.S.-Präsidenten “ins Boot zu holen”. Strategische Entscheide wurden weder erwartet noch getroffen. Trotz symbolischen Zugeständnissen bleiben die Beziehungen zu Trump kompliziert, was die fehlende Bekräftigung der NATO-Beistandspflicht durch Trump deutlich unterstreicht. Der öffentliche Affront gegenüber den anderen Staats- und Regierungschefs während der Ansprache zu Ehren des 9/11 Denkmals im NATO Hauptquartier darf jedoch auch nicht überbewertet werden. Momentan spricht das effektive Engagement der US-Streitkräfte in Europa eine deutliche Sprache: Die USA stehen hinter der NATO (siehe dazu: Louis Martin-Vézian, “Operation Atlantic Resolve: Back to Europe“, Offiziere.ch, 11.03.2017). Dies zeigt auch Trumps eingereichter Vorschlag für den U.S.-amerikanischen Staatshaushalt 2018. Darin soll die Finanzierung der European Reassurance Initiative, zu der auch die Operation Atlantic Resolve gehört, von den diesjährigen 3,4 Milliarden auf 4,8 Milliarden U.S.-Dollar ausgeweitet werden (David M. Herszenhorn, “NATO Cheers Trump’s Military Budget“, POLITICO, 24.05.2017). Trump ist jedoch kein geduldiger Mensch und wird kaum bis 2024 warten wollen, bis die anderen Mitgliedsstaaten ihre Verteidigungsausgaben (vielleicht) auf 2% des BIP anheben. Sollten insbesondere die europäischen NATO-Mitgliedsstaaten mittelfristig nicht deutlich mehr für ihre eigene Sicherheit investieren, könnte die finanzielle Unterstützung der USA schnell spürbar abnehmen. Grundsätzlich kann Trump in einem Punkt kaum widersprochen werden: Weshalb sollten die U.S.-amerikanischen Steuerzahler finanziell für die Sicherheit Europas einstehen, wenn die Steuerzahler in Europa dazu nicht bereit sind? Gefragt wäre von Seiten Trump jedoch echte Überzeugungsarbeit anstatt schulmeisterliches Gehabe. Damit erweist er sich langfristig einen Bärendienst, was insbesondere im Kontext mit dem Treffen mit der EU und den anderen G7-Staaten offensichtlich wurde.

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Info-Box: Noble Jump 2017
Nach etwas mehr als einem Monat Vorbereitung findet im Juni die NATO-Übung Noble Jump 2017 statt. Mit rund 4’000 Soldaten aus 9 Mitgliedsstaaten wird der Einsatz der Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in Rumänien geübt. Die Übung starte mit einer Mobilmachung (Alert Excercice), bei der Truppen und Equipment aus Militär-Basen in Grossbritannien, Deutschland, den Niederlanden, Spanien, Norwegen, Polen, Albanien, Bulgarien und Rumänien innerhalb wenigen Tagen mittels Bahn, Luft und über die See in den Übungsraum verlegt werden sollen. Damit ist diese Übung nicht nur eine infanteristische, sondern in erster Linie eine logistische Herausforderung. Für die NATO stellt dies ein Meilenstein in der Fähigkeit dar, sich gegen einen externen Aggressor zur Wehr zu setzen.

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Weitere Informationen
Offensichtlich fuhr Trump mit seinen Belehrungen der anderen Staats- und Regierungschefs beim anschliessenden Essen weiter: Judy Dempsey, “Trump Leaves NATO“, Carnegie Europe, 26.052017.

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Leadership Transition in Uzbekistan: What’s next for Central Asia?

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

Uzbek men gather to pay their last respects during the funeral of President Islam Karimov in September 2016.

Uzbek men gather to pay their last respects during the funeral of President Islam Karimov in September 2016.

Though dwarfed by Kazakhstan in terms of geographic size, Uzbekistan is strategically vital to peace and stability in Central Asia. Encompassing a great portion of the resource-rich Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan shares borders with all four other post-Soviet Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan – as well as Afghanistan. As such, the death in September 2016 of Islam Karimov, president of the country since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and the subsequent rise to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev will have a substantial impact on efforts in the region to counter terrorism and foster development.

Under Karimov’s rule, Uzbekistan adopted a relatively isolationist foreign and security policy, especially after the Andijan massacre and the withdrawal of American troops from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, located in south-eastern Uzbekistan, in 2005. The aforementioned massacre occurred when Uzbek Interior Ministry and National Security Service troops opened fire on protesters alleged by Karimov’s regime to have been organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir extremists and the terrorist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), potentially killing hundreds and drawing condemnation from the United States and the international community. Since then, there have been few updates to Uzbekistan’s National Security Doctrine, with that document outlining terrorism and Islamic extremism as the chief threats facing the country.

Such non-state actors certainly remain prominent on the list of security challenges facing Uzbekistan as Mirziyoyev takes power, though their particular structure and tactics have changed since Karimov’s 2005 crackdown. In August 2015, the IMU leadership pledged alliance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), precipitating the fragmentation of the former group as some factions declared their rejection of ISIS and continued commitment to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other traditional allies in Central Asia. In a sense, Uzbekistan’s militant Islamists are being pulled apart by two competing interests or causes: on the one hand, the original goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia centred on Afghanistan, and on the other hand, the allure of travelling westward to wage religious war on behalf of ISIS. The siren call of ISIS complicates Uzbekistan’s security situation – hundreds of Uzbek fighters have reportedly joined training camps in Syria and Iraq since 2013 – but this also presents a strategic opportunity for Uzbekistan as the exodus of fighters weakens the domestic presence of IMU and its various factions.

Mirziyoyev also inherits a border dispute with Kyrgyzstan, specifically regarding the status of a small mountain called Ungar-Tepa in Uzbek and Unkur-Too in Kyrgyz. In March 2016, two Uzbek armoured personnel carriers and approximately 40 troops appeared in the area, prompting Kyrgyzstan to deploy troops and border police in response and for emergency talks to be held in Moscow under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Mirziyoyev seems interested in the mending of fences in the region, travelling to Turkmenistan in March 2017 as his first official visit abroad. But it is difficult to say how willing he will be to pursue a negotiated compromise with Kyrgyzstan or finalize an agreement on border demarcation.

Were Mirziyoyev to reach a rapprochement with Kyrgyzstan, it would present a significant opportunity for Uzbekistan to re-engage with the CSTO and potentially step up defence cooperation with the country’s neighbours. In particular, the CSTO formed in 2009 a so-called Collective Rapid Reaction Force (CRRF), currently comprised of the Russian Federation’s 98th Guards Airborne Division and 31st Guards Air Assault Brigade, as well as infantry battalions from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. This would go some way toward entrenching any normalization of Uzbekistan’s relations with the rest of the region, fostering the mutual trust necessary for any border agreement with Kyrgyzstan to be successfully implemented.

It is also important to note that, while Uzbekistan has withdrawn from the CSTO, it has maintained some degree of involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In 2004, the SCO established the headquarters of its Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, as much to secure continued Uzbek participation in the organization as it was a recognition of the country’s geo-strategic importance to the fight against terrorism in Central Asia. Furthermore, Tashkent has been the site of many important milestones for the SCO, such as the signing of a memorandum in June 2016 that would see India and Pakistan become full members – the SCO membership is currently comprised of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and of course Uzbekistan. Given the clout that Uzbekistan has come to hold in the SCO, a drive for membership of Afghanistan in the organization in order to ensure greater support for Uzbek-Afghan border security could be successful.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (R) attend the rountable plenary meeting during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the International Conference Center at Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images).

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev (R) attend the rountable plenary meeting during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the International Conference Center at Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images).

However, Mirziyoyev’s views on these issues are currently a mystery. Domestic observers have described him as “even tougher” than Karimov and exhibiting a similarly strict management style. Despite serving for many years as a regional governor and as Prime Minister of Uzbekistan from 2003 to 2016, he has largely managed to avoid the public eye. There is some reason to believe he will be more open to external engagement and regional solutions than his predecessor, though. For example, in 2006, Mirziyoyev hosted South Korea’s then-Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook in Tashkent. Their talks resulted in several agreements that boosted bilateral trade, particularly a deal to supply South Korea with 300 tons of Uzbek uranium ore a year from 2010 to 2014. This served to partially alleviate some of the pressure from economic sanctions imposed by the US and others in response to the aforementioned Andijan massacre. Given his demonstrated willingness and capacity to negotiate linkages with countries beyond the region, it would not at all be surprising were Mirziyoyev to launch an ambitious series of talks and overtures to the world following his visit to Turkmenistan.

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Colombian Defense After FARC

by Michael Martelle. Michael is a masters student studying Security Policy at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.

Since 1965 the focus of Colombia’s defense policy has been on countering insurgent groups, principally the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia otherwise and more commonly known as FARC, and the supporting narcotics trade. Now that Colombia is on a path to peace with FARC (see info box below), it is apparent that there will be a shift in Colombia’s defense priorities that will have direct implications for policy.

It is clear in the messaging from Colombia’s military leaders that issues related to FARC and the peace process are expected to remain a priority. Two of the three prioritized “lines of action” outlined by Colombian military leadership are “Sword of Honor”, a continuing military response to criminal threats, and “Transition to Peace” which oversees the disarmament and reintegration of guerilla fighters. This pairing likely represents a “carrot and stick” approach to mitigating the risk posed by former FARC guerillas experienced in drug-trafficking and kidnapping. The exploration of issues beyond the FARC peace process is covered in the third prioritized “line of action” which establishes a command to transform Colombia’s military and develop strategy through 2030 (see graphic below).

A successful peace process with FARC will mean Colombia’s defense policymakers will be able to commit more resources to external challenges, specifically those posed by Nicaragua and Venezuela. Nicaragua and Colombia have a recurring dispute over islands in the South Caribbean Sea which motivated Nicaragua to begin expanding its small collection of patrol boats (according to the Military Balance 2017, the Nicaraguan Navy has eight patrol boats: three Dabur-class, four Rodman 101 and one Zhuk-class). Neither these patrol boats nor Nicaragua’s nonexistent offensive air capabilities pose a realistic challenge to Colombia’s blue water force of four Almirante Padilla-class frigates, two Pijao-class (GER T-209/1200) and two Intrepido-class (GER T-206A) tactical submarines.

Nicaragua does, however, have a close relationship with Venezuela, who has their own island dispute and border tensions with Colombia. Venezuela’s fleet of blue-water combatants is on paper a fairly even match with Colombia’s (six Mariscal Sucre-class frigates and two Sabalo-class (GER T-209/1300) tactical submarines). When examining air assets, however, the comparison is more one-sided. The highlight of Colombia’s air inventory is a single squadron of Kfir C-10/C-12/TC-12 ground attack fighters, which does not match up well with Venezuela’s two squadrons of F-16s sold by the US in 1982 to counter Cuban MiG-23 acquisition and four squadrons (with a possible fifth in the works) of Su-30s (For the sake of this comparison squadrons of older generation aircraft and light attack aircraft such as Tucanos have been intentionally overlooked). In addition to this superiority in aircraft, Venezuela’s Air Defense Command has the region’s most advanced air defense which features the Russian-sourced S-300VM surface to air missile system.

This inequality in hardware distracts from potential readiness challenges facing the Venezuelan defense forces. A 2004 report by Stratfor stated that “Venezuela’s armed forces (FAN) are among the poorest, least prepared military institutions in Latin America, despite the country’s substantial oil revenues.” Given Venezuela’s continuing difficulty in preventing Colombian rebel groups from crossing the border (a frequent source of tension), the increase in political instability since the death of Hugo Chavez, and defense spending decreasing from roughly a third to roughly a sixth of Colombia’s from 2014 to 2016 (according to the Military Balance 2016 and 2017). It is not likely that there has been any meaningful improvement and possible that the situation has deteriorated.

It is perhaps due to Venezuela’s readiness challenges that Colombian acquisitions do not seem to be in response to an imbalance in air power. A modernization of the Colombian Army’s rotary wing inventory, artillery, and APCs suggest that Colombia’s solution to near rivals is in converting an army that currently consists of one armored division and eight light infantry divisions to a more conventional and mechanized force (in 2016, Colombia ordered 60 Textron Commando armoured infantry fighting vehicles for US$ 65 millions).

In January 2015, the Ministry of National Defense and the Army presented the new LAV II APC 8×8. The LAV III, originally named the Kodiak by the Canadian Army, is the third generation of the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) family of Infantry fighting vehicle built by General Dynamics Land Systems first entering service in 1999. It is based on the Swiss Mowag Piranha IIIH 8x8.

In January 2015, the Ministry of National Defense and the Army presented the new LAV II APC 8×8. The LAV III, originally named the Kodiak by the Canadian Army, is the third generation of the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) family of Infantry fighting vehicle built by General Dynamics Land Systems first entering service in 1999. It is based on the Swiss Mowag Piranha IIIH 8×8.

Any conversion of the Colombian Army will have to balance continuing counterinsurgency demands. While FARC has been the primary insurgent organization in Colombia, the National Liberation Army, Popular Liberation Army, and Indigenous Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Pacific (ELN, EPL, and FARIP respectively) are still active in Colombia. The Colombian government is currently pursuing a peace deal with the ELN, by far the largest of these groups, using the negotiations with FARC as a model. Despite the promise for a drastically reduced need for counterinsurgency operations, however, the fact that Colombia’s defense structure is responsible for both domestic and international issues as well as the geography of Colombia and its neighbors mean that light infantry will continue to be important. Continued acquisitions of coastal patrol vessels also indicate that the Colombian Navy anticipates a continued need for interdiction operations, which in the past have been counter-narcotics in nature.

Conclusion
The peace process with FARC, if successful, will present an opportunity for Colombian defense policymakers to shift focus to regional challenges. While Nicaragua has challenged Colombian claims in the South Caribbean Sea, the Colombian Navy has no reason to feel challenged by Nicaragua’s small collection of patrol boats. Of more concern is Venezuela’s superiority in aircraft, though serious doubts regarding the readiness of Venezuela’s entire military diminish the credibility of that threat. Rather than addressing challenges in the air, Colombian acquisitions would seem to indicate a desire to conventionalize and modernize the Army, though geography and lingering counterinsurgency challenges may continue to demand a land force dominated by light infantry.

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Info box: The path to peace
FARC is a left-wing, marxist guerrilla movement, which fought against the Colombian government, its representatives, the Colombian armed forces as well as against right-wing paramilitary groups and some drug cartels from 1964 till 2016. After four years of negotiations, on June 23, 2016, a ceasefire accord was signed between the FARC Guerilla Army and the Colombian Government, in Havana, Cuba. Under the accord, the Colombian government will support massive investment for rural development and facilitate the FARC’s reincarnation as a legal political party. FARC promised to help eradicate illegal drug crops, remove landmines in the areas of conflict, and offer reparations to victims. The punishment of the rebels was reduced to a minimum: FARC leaders can avoid prosecution by acts of reparation to victims and other community work. (Sibylla Brodzinsky, “Rural Colombians hope ‘pretty promises’ can bring peace back to paradise“, The Guardian, 23.06.2016). Even grave war crimes would be punished only up to eight years. The impunity to FARC combatants was a major obstacle for the referendum, which was hold on October 2, 2016. Finally, Colombian voters rejected the peace deal with FARC by 50.2% to 49.8% (Richard Emblin, “‘No’ wins plebiscite: Colombians reject FARC peace accord“, The City Paper Bogota, 02.10.2016). Shortly after the failed referendum, the government met with the opponents, receiving over 500 proposed changes, and continued to negotiate with FARC. A revised agreement, which lays down aggravated punishment for rebels and a better compensation of victims out of FARC’s assets, was announced on November 12, 2016, which required parliamentary approval rather than a nationwide referendum. The revised peace agreement was approved by the Colombian Congress on November 30, 2016. On February 18, 2017, the last FARC guerrillas arrived in a designated transition zone, where they began the process of disarming. The rebels are intended to stay in the zones until May 31, 2017, after which they will be registered there and then reintegrated into civilian life.

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Tremendous! Trump of Saudi Arabia!

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But now seriously: Those who expected Donald Trump to fly into Riyadh and insult his Saudi hosts with the kinds of broadsides he delivered on the campaign trail against Islam and Muslims needn’t have worried. He didn’t do anything embarrassing. But he did commit the United States to a deeper alliance with the very leaders who are part of the problem. –> Blake Hounshell, “Donald of Arabia“, Politico, 21.05.2017.

What’s all in the $110 billion Military Arms Deal — probably the largest single arms deal in American history — which the US sealed with Saudi Arabia?

Source: Anthony Capaccio and Margaret Talev, “Saudis to Make $6 Billion Deal for Lockheed’s Littoral Ships“, Bloomberg, 19.05.2017.

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Israel-Saudi relations have come a long way

by Paul Iddon

At the Munich Security Conference earlier this year Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “accused Iran of trying to undermine Saudi Arabia” and accordingly called on “moderate” Sunni Arab monarchies to fight “radical” forces in the region. According to him, Tehran is seeking to “undermine stability in every country in [the] Middle East […] their main destination at the end of the day is Saudi Arabia.” He declared, “I think that [for] the first time since 1948 the moderate Arab world, Sunni world, understands that the biggest threat for them is not Israel, not Jews and not Zionism, but Iran and Iranian proxies.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir avoided a question at that conference about the prospect of an overt Israeli alliance aiming to counter Iran and normalize relations in the process. Nevertheless Lieberman’s comments are the latest to indicate that Israel and the Sunni Arab states are seeing eye to eye when it comes to their opposition to Tehran’s actions in the region.

Back in 2015, retired Saudi General Anwar Majed Eshki and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold revealed, at an event of the Council on Foreign Relations, that their countries held five secret meetings concerning Iran. Such interactions coupled with a perceived common threat show both sides now possess an unprecedented level of common interests.

These behind the scenes interaction do not begin and end with consultations over Iran. Bloomberg reported back in February 2017 that, “[t]rade and collaboration in technology and intelligence are flourishing between Israel and a host of Arab states, even if the people and companies involved rarely talk about it publicly. […] The Arab embargo of Israel, nominally in force since the Jewish state’s founding in 1948, necessitates that all business between Israel and most Arab states remain strictly off the books, cloaked by intermediaries in other countries,” the report outlined. “But the volume and the range of Israeli activity in at least six Gulf countries is getting hard to hide.” The report also says that “Other Israeli businesses are working in the Gulf, through front companies, on desalination, infrastructure protection, cybersecurity, and intelligence gathering.”

These engagements are not unlike Iran’s own pre-revolutionary low-profile relations with Israel. This included selling Israel Iranian oil (see the Eilat-Askelon pipeline) and Israel covertly helping Iran develop its modern military, then among the largest (Iran had the fifth largest army in the world at the time) and certainly the most technologically advanced in the Persian Gulf region.

Anwar Majed Eshki and Dore Gold shaking hands at an event of the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015.

Anwar Majed Eshki and Dore Gold shaking hands at an event of the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015.

While Saudi Arabia never formally accepted the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 it did not nevertheless perceive it as a major strategic threat. In the late 1930s the fledgling Saudi kingdom drove the Hashemites out of the Hejaz region – which includes Mecca – beginning decades of rivalry between it and Jordan (David Wurmser, “Tyranny’s Ally: America’s failure to defeat Saddam Hussein“, The AEI Press, 1999, p. 112). When Israel emerged the Jordanian kingdom found itself wedged between two rivals. In the mid-1990s Amman-Riyadh rivalries were finally done away with, incidentally around the same time Israel and Jordan signed their own peace agreement, and they presently enjoy cordial relations.

Saudi Arabia did play small, albeit more symbolic, roles in the background of the major Arab-Israeli wars. Even though it feared the fiery revolutionary rhetoric of the regime of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt it couldn’t feasible have itself perceived as opposed to, or even ambivalent about, the Arab states in their fight against Israel. The Saudis agreed to use the “oil weapon” in support of Nasser’s successor’s, Anwar Sadat, war against Israel to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula. The Saudis initiated the infamous oil embargo shortly after Washington overtly beefed up Israel’s conventional military late in the October 1973 war – known as Yom Kippur War in Israel and the Ramadan War in the Arab countries.

The US built-up its current relationship with Saudi Arabia during this period. Washington’s own bilateral relations with Riyadh have come a long way from the days of the Nixon administration, when they were preparing secretive contingency plans which included taking military action against Abu Dhabi in response to Riyadh’s embargo.

As part of the periphery doctrine established early in its existence Israel maintained cordial relations with non-Arab states in the wider region, notably Turkey and the Shah’s Iran. Even after the Iranian Revolution Israel favored Iran over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the eight year Iran-Iraq War. They began voicing their concerns about Iran in the early 1990s following the decimation of Saddam’s military in the 1991 Gulf War. Today Israel’s old periphery doctrine seems to have shifted from the periphery to include major Sunni Arab powers in the region against Iran, a major non-Arab state.

A Royal Air Force Boeing Sentry AEW.1 (E-3D serial ZH103) from No. 8 Squadron, RAF Waddington, deployed to the U.S. Air Force 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing, prepares to take off for a mission from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, on 22 March 2003.

A Royal Air Force Boeing Sentry AEW.1 (E-3D serial ZH103) from No. 8 Squadron, RAF Waddington, deployed to the U.S. Air Force 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing, prepares to take off for a mission from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, on 22 March 2003.

Back in the early 1980s Israel vehemently opposed the nascent Reagan administration’s decision to sell five hi-tech E-3 Sentry surveillance planes to the Saudi kingdom. The planes, with their powerful radars could detect Israeli jets taking off and possibly eliminate any element of surprise, of the kind which famously won them the June 1967 war, Israel would need in a future war. Nevertheless the deal went ahead, much to Israel’s consternation. In November 1981 Israeli warplanes reportedly violated Saudi airspace in the northwest near the kingdom’s Tabuk airbase, perhaps to warn Riyadh against challenging their military supremacy in the region.

As a newspaper report from the time observed that incident came “at a time of increased tension in the Mideast over Saudi defense. On Oct. 28 [1981] the US Senate, over the vehement protests of Israel, approved an $8.5 billion arms package to the oil-rich kingdom, which provides 20 per cent of American imported oil. Israel regards possession of sophisticated arms by a hard-line Arab nation as a threat to the security of the Jewish state.”

For over 50 years now US administrations supplying arms to Arab powers always sought to assure Israel that they will uphold their military’s technological edge over these states. The Obama administration sought to placate Israeli and Saudi opposition to the Iran nuclear deal by offering them more lucrative arms deals.

The Saudi military’s build-up in the last decade is both vast in scale and the technology involved. According to a report seen by Reuters the Obama administration offered the Saudis more than $115 billion worth of weapons since coming into office which constituted, “the most of any US administration in the 71-year US-Saudi alliance.” The offers “included everything from small arms and ammunition to tanks, attack helicopters, air-to-ground missiles, missile defense ships, and warships.”

Mute opposition from Israel on this – although they did say they are “not thrilled about it” – is noteworthy, especially considering that as recently as 2003 Riyadh relocated many of its advanced American-made F-15E Strike Eagle jets to Tabuk, allegedly to counter any Iraqi attacks during that years war, where they could reach Israeli airspace in a mere six minutes.

Israel is clearly no longer, at least publicly, concerned about the Saudi military’s expanding capabilities. The Israelis do publicly say, repeatedly, that their primary concern is Iran’s growing power in the region. Undoubtedly these stated concerns and their acquiescence to the Saudi military’s manic build-up indicate that they hope Riyadh can one day bolster the Israeli military by afflicting significant damage on Tehran were a war to break out.

Posted in English, Israel, Paul Iddon, Saudi Arabia, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Can the T-14 Armata Main Battle Tank Possibly Match Its Hype?

by Sébastien Roblin. He holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States.

Few tanks have received as much attention in peacetime as the T-14 Armata. Russian state media has published hundreds of articles in its praise. Western media has reciprocated with pieces depicting the Armata as heralding the end of NATO’s military superiority. And of course there have also been many pieces, such as this article on offiziere.ch by my colleague Joseph Trevithick, doubting that the Armata is nearly as good as Russia Today promises, and more pointedly, that Moscow can afford to produce more than a handful of them in the near term.

The T-14 Armata seen at the rehearsal for the 2016 Victory Parade in Alabino near Moscow on April 11, 2016 (Photo: Vitaly Kuzmin, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License).

The T-14 Armata seen at the rehearsal for the 2016 Victory Parade in Alabino near Moscow on April 11, 2016 (Photo: Vitaly Kuzmin, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License).

There is undoubtedly much hype and propaganda surrounding the Armata, and early claims about the T-14’s armament and engine have been demonstrably scaled back with time. On the other hand, even stripped of hyperbole, the T-14 exhibits intriguing innovations and evolutions in tank design.

This article reviews the claims that have been made about the T-14 and its various systems, considers what these claims imply and, where evidence is available, whether the claims stand up to scrutiny. The reader should keep in mind that in regards to certain issues, such as the configuration of the T-14 armor, it is only possible to speculate. In other cases, the officially available data may be open to question. The author invites the reader to interpret the same set of data to their own satisfaction, and to offer their own insight on any data that has been overlooked or not given the consideration it is due.

How much do the world's tanks cost?

How much do the world’s tanks cost?

Production
Perhaps the first relevant question one should ask is whether the T-14 will actually be produced in numbers sufficient to enhance the effectiveness of the Russian Army. Russia currently has an order for more than 100 T-14 tanks, sufficient to equip several battalions. Thus the T-14 appears to be far more tangible than other much boasted about defense projects such as the PAK-FA stealth fighter or S-500 SAM system that seem unlikely to materialize in operational units in fully capable form before the end of the decade, despite claims in the media to the contrary.

Nonetheless, the Russian military was not pleased by the price tag of the T-14. Russia Insider claims the T-14 prototypes cost $6.5 million each, and that price will fall to $3.7 each once mass production begins. More recent publications claim costs ranging between $4 and 5 million.

Another consideration is that the Armata chassis is also being used for the T-15 heavy IFV (for which no production orders are extant so far), the T-16 armored recovery vehicle, and also a tank destroyer variant using the 152-millimeter gun from the Koalitsya self-propelled artillery system. Some claim the figure of more than 100 Armatas actually includes these other vehicles, and a second “true” production run of 70 Armatas is due in 2019.

Revealed in Uralvagonzavod's corporate calendar for 2016.

Revealed in Uralvagonzavod’s corporate calendar for 2016.

Moscow has “confirmed” it will produce 2,300 T-14s by 2020 (now 2025). However, a British intelligence report estimates that only 120 T-14s will be produced annually. Thus, some argue that even if the T-14 is every bit the wunder tank it is claimed to be, Russia cannot afford many of them any time soon.

In January, the Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has announced its interest in upgrading its fleet of 400 T-90A tanks to the T-90M. This is thought to use technologies adapted from the T-14, including the Afghanit active protection system, Malachite reactive armor, and, for certain, the 2A82 main gun. This would be a substantial upgrade for the T-90A, though as usual, the extent of implementation will matter.

Offensive Capabilities

Main Gun
For nearly three decades, several generations of Russian tanks relied on the 2A46 125 millimeter gun — a weapon which famously failed to penetrate the M1 Abrams tank during the 1991 Gulf War. Since other top-of-the-line Western main battle tanks boasted similar levels of protection, this was a rather serious shortcoming. However, the Iraqi tanks lacked the more advanced ammunition developed for the 2A46 gun, which theoretically could have pierced the Abram’s frontal armor at shorter combat ranges.

The T-14 finally has a new gun — not a 152 millimeter 2A83 gun as was long rumored, but a longer-barrel 2A82-1M 125 millimeter gun (56 calibers in length verses 51 calibers on the 2A46M1). Russia claims the 2A82 generates 17% more muzzle energy than the 120 millimeter L/55 gun on later Leopard 2 tanks.

The T-14’s unmanned turret has the space for a larger carousel autoloader which can fire ten rounds per minute of single-piece ammunition and can use longer penetrator rods. Russia claims the 2A82 can pierce the equivalent of one meter of Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) at 2 kilometers using its new Vacuum-1 APFSDS round, which has a 0.9 meter long penetrator. If this claim is accurate, this would pose a real threat to top Western main battle tanks even at medium combat ranges. However, the round would also need to be produced and deployed in sufficient quantities, which has not always been the case for advanced Russian munitions. Russian media also claims the T-14 can fire a new “remotely detonated” Telnik high explosive shell, which presumably may be similar to the programmable air-burst shells coming into service on tanks like the Leclerc and M1A2 SEP V3 tank.

Russian defense official still maintain they will upgrade the T-14 with a 2A83 152 millimeter main gun in the future, but most observers believe this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Assertions that a tank-mounted 152 millimeter gun was just around the corner date back to the 1990s.

Unlike most Western tanks — bar the Merkava — the T-14 can fire anti-tank missiles from its main gun. This is an ability that Russian tanks have boasted since the T-64A. In theory, tank-launched missiles may be superior to shells at extremely long engagement ranges, or possibly for attacking helicopters. However, tank-launched missiles have seen little use in combat. The Armata uses a new SACLOS missile called the 3UBK21 Sprinter, with a range of 8 kilometers and an anti-helicopter mode — though the 7.5 kilometer range claimed for the Aramata’s laser targeter might shorten that range a bit.

 A Russian schematic of the new T-14 tank translated into English by a U.S. Army analyst. Illustration via the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office’s OEWatch 5, Issue 3, March 2015, p. 52.

 A Russian schematic of the new T-14 tank translated into English by a U.S. Army analyst. Illustration via the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office’s OEWatch 5, Issue 3, March 2015, p. 52.

 
Sights and Sensors
Of course, major factors of offensive capability are detection and fire control — in other words, which tank will detect its adversary first and actually land a hit. The T-14 reportedly has sights with 4x and 12x optical zoom. Its sensors are also said to be capable of detecting tank-sized targets to a range of 7.5 kilometers during the day, or 3.5 at night. The commander’s sight is mounted on top of the turret and can rotate 360 degrees; the gunner has a sight slaved to the turret, and also has its own periscope. Both sights have thermographic and electromagnetic channels, as well as laser rangefinders. The driver has his own forward-looking infrared sensor. There are also many video cameras giving a 360 degree view around the tank, as the crew otherwise would have little ability to see outside.

Western tanks have generally been seen as having superior sights, sensors and ballistic computers compared to Russian designs. For example, an M1A2 sight is capable of 50X magnification. Russian thermal imagers are also believed to have lower resolution. The T-90A tanks uses French Thales Catherine sights, and there is evidence that the T-14’s sensors may rely on imported or smuggled Chinese or Western components for thermal imagers.

Secondary Armament
Through early 2015, it was widely reported that the T-14 would boast a 30 millimeter auto cannon as a secondary armament for engaging infantry, helicopters and incoming missiles. This would have been another radical design feature, as very few modern tanks boast a secondary weapon heavier than a heavy machine gun. However, the T-14 unveiled at the May Day parade had no such weapon. Apparently, the main secondary armament is to be a remotely-operated 12.7 millimeter Kord machinegun mounted above the commander’s sight. Remote weapons have become standard equipment for tanks in urban combat zones, and their inclusion on the T-14 makes a lot of sense. It has also been claimed that this machine gun could automatically controlled by the T-14’s radar to serve as a back-up hard-kill active protection system. Russian officials maintain the 30 millimeter cannon may show up in future versions of the T-14. There is also a co-axial PKTM machinegun in the turret, but no hull-mounted machinegun.

The T-14 tank mounts two active protection assemblies on both sides of the turret. Covered by passive armor for ballistic protection, these modules integrate the Afghanit sensor (trapezoidal unit), five hard-kill launch tubes mounted at the turret’s base, two peripheral cameras and flat (possibly covered) sensor, likely radar coupled with the soft-kill system. Some sources indicate these sensors are derived from AESA radar technology developed and implemented on the Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter jet. The rotatable soft-kill launcher containing 12 cartridges can be seen above, mounted on a rotating pedestal. (Source: Tamir Eshel, "New Russian Armor – First analysis: Armata", Defense Update, 09.05.2015).

The T-14 tank mounts two active protection assemblies on both sides of the turret. Covered by passive armor for ballistic protection, these modules integrate the Afghanit sensor (trapezoidal unit), five hard-kill launch tubes mounted at the turret’s base, two peripheral cameras and flat (possibly covered) sensor, likely radar coupled with the soft-kill system. Some sources indicate these sensors are derived from AESA radar technology developed and implemented on the Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter jet. The rotatable soft-kill launcher containing 12 cartridges can be seen above, mounted on a rotating pedestal. (Source: Tamir Eshel, “New Russian Armor – First analysis: Armata“, Defense Update, 09.05.2015).

 
Defense

Crew Survivability
The T-14 is renowned for its unmanned turret. The crew of three — a commander, gunner, and driver — instead reside in an armored pod in the front hull. The Armata’s main gun ammunition is stowed separately from the crew in the turret. This means that penetrating hits to the turret are very unlikely to kill crew, which could be especially advantageous when a T-14 is in hull-down position, with just the turret exposed over the crest of a hill. On the other hand, at 3.3 meters tall, the T-14 has a profile nearly a full meter taller than an M1A2 Abrams. One disadvantage of this layout is that the crew will be especially dependent on the Armata’s many external cameras to gain a better view of the battlefield. It should also be noted that there is very little machinery standing in between the crew and any shells or missiles that penetrate the front hull.

Afghanit Active Protection System
Undoubtedly the most ambitious development in the Armata is its Afghanit Active Protection System, which includes both soft-kill measures (seeking to confuse or misguide approaching missiles) and a hard-kill system (attempting to physically destroy them).

The soft-kill component consists of four smoke grenade dischargers on the turret top, each with twelve grenades. These serve not only to visually obscure the tank, but release multi-spectral aerosol clouds that may mask the vehicle’s infrared signature and block targeting lasers and radars. Two of the launchers have a vertical orientation, allowing them to counter top-attack missiles. In theory, the soft-kill measures might help ward against deadly infrared guided Javelin or laser-guided Kornet missiles. However, some sources argue that modern IR sensors are sufficiently powerful not to be confused by such a cloud.

The Afghanit’s hard-kill component consists of five tubes carrying interceptor charges nestled under each side of the turret. The T-14’s has a millimeter-wave length AESA radar system, believed to be adapted from the one used on the PAK-FA stealth fighter, that detects incoming projectiles and automatically turns the turret towards them so that the hard kill tubes can shoot the threat down. This has the added benefit of presenting the thicker front turret armor towards the projectile. The radar may also be able to provide targeting data on the firing platform.

Afghanit Active Protection System (Hard Kill).

Afghanit Active Protection System (Hard Kill).

Given the combat-proven effectiveness of the Israeli Trophy hard-kill active protection system, as well as Russia’s long history developing and fielding active protection systems, the Afghanit system may be effective in swatting down rocket propelled grenades and most low-flying anti-tank guided missiles. However, the hard-kill interceptors’ horizontal orientation means they are incapable of stopping top-attack missiles.

The publication Izvetsia also claims the Afghanit will work against kinetic anti-tank shells ie. the armor-piercing main gun rounds of an opposing tank, at speed of up to 1,700 meters a second — a claim most Western analysts are skeptical of. Consider, first of all, that a tank shell is smaller and travels many times faster than an anti-tank missile, making it harder to detect, giving the active protection system less time to react, and presenting a much harder target to intercept. However, in the event the Afghanit manages to hit an incoming shell, physics still presents a problem: the vast kinetic energy of a tank shell cannot be negated by the Afghanit’s smaller, low-velocity projectiles. That is to say, even if hit by an Afghanit interceptor round, a tank shell would possess sufficient force to continue towards its target. However, an intercepted shell may be deflected off course, and its penetration could be degraded by a few hundred millimeters, giving the tank’s armor a better chance of resisting. Thus, it seems that if the Afghanit is capable of contributing at all to defense against its kinetic shells, it may do so at the margins.

Malachit Reactive Armor
The Armata also boasts the new Malachit explosive reactive armor (ERA), thought to be an evolution of the earlier Relikt ERA. Reactive armor involves an array of explosive bricks set on the hull of a tank that blast outward to disrupt and deflect incoming shaped charge warheads. Traditional ERA is useful against missiles, rockets and HEAT shells, which project a jet of molten metal into the target when impacted. However, traditional ERA is largely ineffective against kinetic shells. Relikt and now Malachit use a radar system to detect incoming shells and detonate the reactive armor before the moment of impact. Relikt also differs from earlier forms of ERA by using small explosives between reactive armor plates that feed the metal plates laterally into the path of a projectile, causing the penetration rods of sabot shells to warp and possibly shatter. Thus, Russia claims that Relikt and its successor Malachit are both effective at degrading kinetic tank shells. Relikt is also a dual-layer ERA intended to counteract tandem charge warheads. Details of how Malachit differs from Relikt are scant. The U.S. Army developed the new M829A4 120 millimeter sabot shell as means to counteract Relikt ERA, so perhaps the new reactive armor may be designed to counter the latest American shell.

Armor
The Armata has a composite armor made of ceramic and a a new steel alloy made through electroslag melting which Russian designers maintain enables better performance for the same weight. The T-14 also has slat armor on the rear hull sides to protect the vulnerable engine compartment and air intakes against rocket propelled grenades. Russian media claims the T-14 has a maximum protection equivalent to 1.1 to 1.3 meters of Rolled Homogenous Armor verses HEAT munitions. This would suffice to block many older anti-tank missiles such as the TOW, which can penetrate a maximum of 900 millimeters. Against armor piercing rounds, the T-14’s armor supposedly is equivalent to 1 meter RHA.

Some observers, however, feel that the T-14’s weight and size don’t add up to such formidable levels of protection. The Armata weighs just 50 tons compared to the 72 ton M1A2, which in later iterations is estimated as having 0.95 meters of protection against kinetic rounds. Proponents of the T-14 maintain this is simply because the Armata has a smaller volume to protect. But while the Armata’s smaller turret could account for some of the difference, it is taller and actually has a longer hull than the M1A2 at 8.5 meters compared to 7.9 meters. The use of extremely expensive metals also seems unlikely given the T-14’s projected cost. For this reason, many Western observers believe the Armata remains overall less well armored than an M1.

One common theory is that the T-14’s turret is lightly armored — perhaps just enough to protect against the automatic cannons common on infantry fighting vehicles — while heavy armor protection is reserved for the manned front hull. This might reconcile the high claimed maximum armor value for a vehicle that weighs significantly less than its Western counterparts, and may rely on its reactive armor and active protection system to protect against missile and rocket threats from the sides and rear.

Other Defensive Systems
The T-14 has four turret-mounted Laser Warning Receivers. These would alert the crew if they are being painted by the laser targeted of an enemy tank or missile system, giving the T-14 crew a chance to orient the turret towards the adversary and back the vehicle out of danger. It is also said to have a magnetic-countermeasure system on the rear hull intended to disrupt electronics on remotely-detonated IEDs or possibly even incoming missiles. The Moscow Times also claims the T-14 will be coated with radar absorbent paint and that its heat-emitting components have been recessed within the vehicle to lower its infrared signature, making the T-14 a “stealth tank”. However, analysts are skeptical that the T-14’s engine can be significantly hidden from modern IR sensors, or that anti-radar paint can have a significant effect on detection when not combined with other measures to reduce radar cross section

As one can see, the Armata’s multi-layered defensive system could be particularly effective against direct fire missiles.

As one can see, the Armata’s multi-layered defensive system could be particularly effective against direct fire missiles.

 
Mobility
Initial widely publicized claims of a 1,500 horsepower turbocharged diesel engine for the Armata have been downgraded to a 1,350 horsepower engine. Other sources state the engine is governed to 1,200 horsepower. Armata designers insist they will eventually field a model with a fully-powered 1,500 horsepower engine.

Due to the T-14’s comparatively low weight, it can still attain a maximum road speed of 50 mph (80 km/h) or more — 5 mph (8 km/h) faster than even a Leopard 2 or Leclerc, and 35% faster than a Challenger 2 or a T-90. The T-14 reportedly has an automatic gear box suspension, allowing it to move in reverse as quickly as forward. Reports that the T-14 has hydrostatic transmission, by contrast, are likely inaccurate due to the expense of such a system.

The Armata is claimed to have an operational range of 310 miles (500 km), putting it in between the T-72 and T-90. Of course, Russia will have to hope that the T-14 demonstrates greater reliability than the vehicle that stopped up on the 2015 Victory Day parade rehearsal. The official explanation: an inadequately trained driver didn’t realize he had the parking brake on. Towards that end, the Armata will also come with its own automated diagnostic system, another feature that has come into fashion on Western battle tanks.

Further Development
Pravda claims that the Armata will come with its own dedicated Pterodactyl lightweight drones tethered by a power cable to the vehicles, which will fly dozens of meters high to aid in spotting adversaries.

Russian media also touts the future deployment of entirely remote-controlled Armatas. This seems plausible in the sense that the crew already relies on externally mounted cameras to look upon the world, the Armata’s main and secondary weapon are remotely controlled, and the main gun uses as an autoloader. Thus, the crew of remotely-operated Armata could use the same controls to operate an Armata from a place of safety, allowing the Russian military to field battle tanks without putting their crews at risk. However, though robot tanks may lie in the future, Moscow has yet to present a prototype. There are also practical considerations. Maintaining datalinks in battlefield conditions secured from hacking, jamming and other natural or artificial sources of interference would be of vital importance for a remote tank, and represent a new electronic Achilles Heel for adversaries to exploit.

 
Conclusion
Obviously, there’s considerable uncertainty given the information available on the T-14. This is what the currently available evidence suggests to the author:

  • The 2A82 cannon may be effective against current Western tanks at medium combat ranges — if the new ammunition is as effective as claimed, and is actually produced in quantity.
  • The T-14’s sensors and fire control systems are likely inferior to modernized Western counterparts, given the information available.
  • The T-14’s multi-layered Active Protection Systems and Explosive Reactive armor will likely give it good protection against direct-fire anti-tank missiles and rocket propelled grenades. However, top-attack munitions will only face the soft-kill countermeasures of the Afghanit system.
  • The usefulness of the Afghanit system against kinetic armor piercing rounds is in doubt. The effectiveness of the Malachit ERA against armor-piercing sabots is an unknown quantity, though Relikt ERA appears to have inspired the United States to develop a new armor piercing round.
  • The Armata’s significantly lower weight implies less conventional armor than on the M1 Abrams or Leopard 2. It is possible that the armor may be concentrated on the crew compartment.
  • The Armata will have greater crew survivability than earlier Russian tanks.
  • The T-14 is faster than modern Western tanks.
  • For the time being, Russia is unable to afford large-volume production of the T-14. Thus, the Russian army will field mostly T-72s into the 2020s.
Posted in Armed Forces, International, Sébastien Roblin, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

On our own behalf: I’m back

Deutsch (scroll down for an English translation)

Werte Leser,

Preview of the "Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 Dataset" - part 1.

Preview of the “Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 Dataset” – part 1.

ich kann mitteilen, dass ich letzte Woche nach monatelanger intensiver Arbeit meine Masterarbeit “Multicultural Failure? Peacebuilding after Ethnic Civil War” bei der Freien Universität in Berlin einreichen konnte. Bei dieser Arbeit geht es hauptsächlich darum, wie sich Abspaltung, territoriale und politische Autonomie sowie Repression auf die Erfolgschancen eines dauerhaften Friedens nach einem ethnischen Bürgerkrieg auswirken. Damit verbunden war die Zusammenstellung einer umfangreichen Datenbank aller ethnischen Bürgerkriege (> 1’000 durch Kampfhandlungen bedingte Tote pro Jahr) zwischen 1949 und 2015 (Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 Dataset). Momentan bin ich noch unschlüssig, ob ich die Masterarbeit nach der Verteidigung im Herbst dieses Jahres veröffentlichen werde. Der Entscheid ist davon abhängig, wie gut die Arbeit beim Joint Examination Board ankommt. Ich stelle jedoch die dazugehörige Datenbank bereits jetzt allen Interessierten zur Verfügung und zwar als Excel-Datei sowie als PDF zur Erstellung von Postern (Teil 1 / Teil 2).

Das Erstellen dieser Masterarbeit sowie gleichzeitig meine berufliche Tätigkeit zwangen mich die verfügbare Zeit für offiziere.ch seit anfangs dieses Jahres auf ein Minimum zu reduzieren. Dies hatte zur Folge, dass viele eingereichte Artikel für Wochen oder gar Monate auf eine Bearbeitung warten mussten. Ich danke allen Autoren, die dafür Verständnis aufbringen konnten und offiziere.ch trotzdem treu bleiben. Es ist geplant, dass ich in den nächsten Wochen allmählich wieder mehr Zeit in den Blog investieren werde. Momentan kann ich jedoch nicht versprechen, dass wir dieses Jahr bei den veröffentlichten Artikeln zahlenmässig wieder an die letzten paar Jahre aufschliessen werden können. Es geht in Zukunft wieder mehr darum, die Qualität ins Zentrum zu stellen und dafür auf eine hohe Veröffentlichungskadenz zu verzichten. Sollten Sie interessiert sein uns dabei zu helfen, sind Sie interessiert einen qualitativ hochstehen Artikel einmalig oder regelmässig beizusteuern, dann melden Sie sich auf [email protected].

Patrick


English (für eine deutsche Übersetzung nach oben scrollen)

Valued reader,

Preview of the "Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 Dataset" - part 2.

Preview of the “Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 Dataset” – part 2.

I can finally announce that last week, I handed in my master’s thesis “Multicultural Failure? Peacebuilding after Ethnic Civil War” to the Freie Universität Berlin after months of intensive work. This thesis mainly addressed how secession, territorial and political autonomy, and repression affect the chances for lasting peace after ethnic civil war. This involved compiling a comprehensive database of all ethnic civil wars (> 1,000 deaths per year caused by combat operations) between 1949 and 2015 (Ethnic civil wars 1949-2015 data set). At the moment, I remain undecided as to whether I will publish the thesis after I defend it this autumn. The decision will depend on how well the paper is received by the joint examination board. However, I am already making the database available to anyone interested as an Excel file, as well as as a PDF for creating posters (part 1 / aprt 2).

Writing this master’s thesis and my professional obligations have kept the time available for me to work on offiziere.ch to a minimum since the beginning of this year. As a result, many articles that have been submitted have been waiting for weeks or even months for me to edit them. I would like to thank all of the authors for their understanding and their continued loyalty to offiziere.ch in spite of this issue. I plan to gradually invest more time in the blog again in the next few weeks. At the moment, however, I cannot promise that the number of articles published this year will be able to return to the levels of the last few years. In the future, it will be more important to focus on quality than on quantity. If you are interested in helping us out or in submitting high-quality articles on a one-off or repeated basis, then please contact us at [email protected].

Patrick

Posted in Editorial Announcements, English, Security Policy | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The ISIS drone threat

by Paul Iddon.

In a 1993 televised panel discussion about the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and potential ballistic missile threats from countries like North Korea and Iran, scholar Russell Seitz briefly touched upon the simple forms in which asymmetrical threats can come.

“If you also buy an Apple Newton and a model airplane, you have just bought yourself a cruise missile,” he told the panel. “So we have already arrived at a rather dystopic future in which the appropriate technology on the consumer level makes it imperative that we address the problem.”

An ISIS drone modified to carry a 40mm rifle grenade in the attached plastic tube.

An ISIS drone modified to carry a 40mm rifle grenade in the attached plastic tube.

Seitz’s example is particularly prophetic in light of developments in the present Battle for Mosul. The Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group has managed to modify drones available to hobbyists into small bomb-dropping – bombs the size of grenades with “badminton birdies for tails” – aircraft. The Iraqis find the small nimble remote-controlled quad-copters difficult, but not impossible, to shoot down.

For its part the US military is taking note on how ISIS use these drones. “They’ve actually gone to almost swarm-level capability in a couple of cases,” said U.S. lieutenant general Michael Lundy. “That is a big area that we are learning.”

A Patriot missile belonging to a U.S. ally shot down an ISIS quad-copter in March. U.S. General David Perkins pointed out the obvious “overkill” involved in using a $3 million a piece missiles to shoot down very basic $200-300 drones that’s relatively easy for anyone to acquire (see from 14m54s in the full video below). Given their potential swarm capability identified by lieutenant general Lundy, ISIS or some other groups, could try and goad the U.S., and/or its allies, into firing off several expensive missiles in order to bring down these cheap pilotless aircraft.

Or, as Perkins put it: “If I am the enemy, I am thinking ‘I am just going to go on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters that I can and expend all these Patriot missiles’.”

Such a scenario is not wholly unlike Israel’s use of $50,000 a piece Iron Dome Tamir missiles to shoot down relatively inexpensive $500-1,000 home-made rockets used by the Hamas in Gaza. Or, for that matter, British use of air-to-surface Brimstone missiles, which cost around $250,000 each, to take out individual ISIS technical Toyota pickup trucks.

“In the big picture ISIS’s drones are more of an annoyance than a real threat to the security forces,” Joel Wing, an Iraq analyst who runs the Musings on Iraq blog, told Offiziere. “These drones serve three main purposes for ISIS,” he explained. “The attacking of civilians in liberated east Mosul, where they usually fly around looking for a crowd on which they can drop a grenade. The harassment of Iraqi forces, flying over them usually results in the Iraqi Security Forces trying to shoot them down, which stops them from doing whatever they were doing beforehand. And finally, they use these drones to spot targets for mortar and rocket fire and to direct car bombs. That’s actually probably their most important use for the insurgents.”

Last November, in the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, ISIS reportedly used a drone to drop bombs on several densely populated areas, killing up to six people and wounding several others. This is a clear attempt on their part to terrorize the civilian population of that city, which they have been besieging for over two years now.

"After we moved forward, #Iraq forces shot down this weaponised IS drone that had been buzzing over us earlier. Pic credit our driver Alaa." — Sara Hussein, Reporter with Agence France-Presse (@sarahussein) 23. Februar 2017.

“After we moved forward, #Iraq forces shot down this weaponised IS drone that had been buzzing over us earlier. Pic credit our driver Alaa.” — Sara Hussein, Reporter with Agence France-Presse (@sarahussein) 23. Februar 2017.

On October 2 an ISIS drone rigged with a small amount of explosives killed two Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and injured their two French military advisors.

Iraqi forces pushing into Mosul found a drone workshop belonging to the militants, showing their diligent efforts to weaponize these consumer products. A similar workshop was found in the city of Ramadi after it was liberated from the militants at the end of 2015. Both discoveries indicate that ISIS has been making earnest and organized attempts to weaponize drones to try and garner an edge over their enemies.

The US-led coalition shot an ISIS drone out of the sky for the first time all the way back in March 2015. “It was a commercially available, remote piloted aircraft, really something anyone can get,” remarked US Army Colonel Steve Warren following the incident. He also described it as little more than a “model airplane”, aptly echoing Sietz’s aforementioned two-decade old warning about the simplicity of such technology. However, unlike the drones today it seems that one was used for reconnaissance rather than attack purposes, so therefore required little or no modification. In late 2015 ISIS used a drone to film rocket attacks against the Turkish base in Bashiqa. Also, during its siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani in late 2014 ISIS used drone footage of the city in its propaganda videos.

Iraq's armed forces have captured a Da'ish weaponised quadcopter and shuttlecock grenade depot in western Mosul in April 2017.

Iraq’s armed forces have captured a Da’ish weaponised quadcopter and shuttlecock grenade depot in western Mosul in April 2017.

The steady weaponization of these drones among such groups is alarming. Early last September, Jund al Aqsa, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, released a video purporting to show it is capable of dropping bombs from an unmanned drone on Syria’s Homs province. The Lebanese-based Shiite militia Hezbollah also demonstrated that it is capable of dropping unguided bombs from drones in Aleppo last August. Iran is a known supplier of military equipment to that particular group so those drones are purpose built for such attacks as opposed to ISIS’s modified commercial versions. An Iranian-made drone was also suspected in the bombing and killing of four Turkish soldiers in northwest Syria last November.

ISIS’s many enemies will likely force the group from the swaths of territory they control in Iraq and Syria while the militants’ drone program remains in its infancy. If ISIS had been able to remain in Mosul for longer it could well have devised more deadly drone weapons, possibly even enabling these tiny unmanned flying machines to unleash chemical weapons – ISIS already developed and deployed quite primitive chemicals against their Kurdish enemies in both Iraq and Syria – on densely populated areas in either Iraq or Syria.

In recent months these ruthless militants have demonstrated is that it is becoming easier for sub-state actors and terrorist groups to acquire relatively cheap technology and weaponize it to the extent that it could pose a very real threat to military and civilian targets alike.

Posted in English, Iraq, Paul Iddon, Syria, Technology, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Political Gamble in The Gambia

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

In a surprise move, The Gambian voters rejected the 22-year authoritarian rule of Yahya Jammeh on December 1, 2016 and elected opposition figure Adama Barrow to their country’s presidency. It is difficult to discern exactly how reliable the results were as no international observers were present: European Union (EU) observers were denied access by local authorities while the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) opted to boycott the election, alleging that the Islamic Republic of The Gambia did not have the “political environment conducive for free and fair presidential elections”. Yet the international community rallied in support of Adama Barrow’s apparent victory, calling on Yahya Jammeh to honour the results and step down from power.

So far, there are promising signs for a peaceful transition. 19 political dissidents, imprisoned by The Gambian authorities during a series of protests in July 2016, were released on December 5. Among the 19 was Ousainou Darboe, a human rights lawyer and leader of Barrow’s United Democratic Party. Nonetheless, one must approach these recent developments in The Gambian politics with caution. The Gambian Armed Forces (GAF), and in particular The Gambian National Army (GNA), has long maintained significant influence in the country’s politics; for example, Yahya Jammeh came to power in July 1994 as a young officer at the head of a military coup against Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s first President following the end of British colonial rule.

ECOWAS troops patrol in the streets of Barra town after the former President Yahya Jammeh left the country, in Banjul, The Gambia on January 22, 2017.

ECOWAS troops patrol in the streets of Barra town after the former President Yahya Jammeh left the country, in Banjul, The Gambia on January 22, 2017.

The Gambian military may have been encouraged to shift its support from President Jammeh to the opposition by ECOWAS’ recent mulling of economic sanctions against The Gambia, which is one of its member states, for its poor human rights record. ECOWAS accounts for more than 40% of The Gambian exports, with Mali closely following China as the top destination market for The Gambian export commodities. ECOWAS sanctions would have not only intensified social unrest in The Gambia but also deeply undermined the financial interests of military and political elites, particularly those vested in the deeply corrupt Customs and Port Authorities.

Perhaps the most important factor in Jammeh’s decision to step down as President and enter exile in Equatorial Guinea was a military intervention by ECOWAS. On January 19, 2017, a force of approximately 7,000 troops from Senegal, 600 from Nigeria, and 200 from Ghana deployed to The Gambia to “re-establish democracy”. Faced with superior forces, and with The Gambian military unwilling to offer resistance, Jammeh resigned two days later. Upon his inauguration, Barrow asked that a smaller ECOWAS force of approximately 2,500 troops remain in the country until the end of June 2017 in order to “ensure stability”. Although Senegal’s sizable troop contribution to the intervention might suggest that the deployment was more so about preserving influence in the country and the region, the stated cause of preserving peace and security in West Africa is plausible (see also John O. Sullivan, “The Gambia Intervention: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly“, Finest Bagels Blog, April 19, 2017).

In particular, the potential to diffuse social unrest in The Gambia, as well as the risk of a spill-over in the region, through a change in the Presidency should not be understated. Large-scale protests swept the country in April and May 2016, months ahead of the election, as The Gambians expressed dissatisfaction with deepening economic inequality. Approximately 43% of the population remains engaged in low-paying agriculture jobs, average economic growth since independence has been low, and more than 61% of The Gambians are estimated to live below the poverty line. This stagnation, even as the rest of the West African region generates excitement as a hub for future economic growth, ignited sufficient discontent for the United Democratic Party to offer a compelling alternative.

Under the new president, EU election observers have again access to the polling stations during the parliamentary election which were held on April 6, 2017.

Under the new president, EU election observers have again access to the polling stations during the parliamentary election which were held on April 6, 2017.

In December 2014, several United States-based The Gambian expatriates mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt against Yahya Jammeh, with four people killed in the process. For military elites in The Gambia, this failed coup and the increasingly frequent protests may have created the impression that a change was necessary – either wholesale and by violence, or piecemeal and peacefully. As such, the surprise victory by Adama Barrow and the even more surprising acquiescence to the election result by the military seems less like a momentous shift in West African politics and more so a testament to the versatility of The Gambia’s kleptocracy.

This is even more readily apparent when one considers how The Gambia’s new President will not have much political room to manoeuvre against the GAF. Faced with a coup of his own in 1981, then President Dawda Jawara requested military aid from neighbouring Senegal, which promptly deployed 2,700 troops. Efforts to unify the two countries into a new political entity – the Senegambian Confederation – soon followed but prompted tremendous backlash from The Gambian public and the eventual dissolution of that unified state in 1989. Barrow’s request for an intervention force from the ECOWAS, specifically Senegal, could later lead to his vilification by the same voters who brought him to power, especially if mistrust for Senegal’s strategic intentions does not prove to be unfounded and Senegalese troops remain in The Gambia beyond the June 2017 deadline.

As such, the December 2016 election is a promising sign that The Gambia is moving toward liberal democratic norms and that the ECOWAS can function well as a “security toolbox” for resolving or preventing conflicts in West Africa. However, it will largely be business as usual for much of The Gambian society, at least until the ascendant opposition parties can devise some means of implementing security sector reforms that curb the influence of military elites. If that cannot be accomplished, and if Senegalese troops remain late into the year, West Africa will face yet another crisis, worse in nature than even an uprising against Jammeh.

Posted in English, Gambia, Paul Pryce | Leave a comment

Taliban’s Propaganda War

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrives by helicopter on an unannounced visit at Resolute Support headquarters in the Afghan capital Kabul on April 24, 2017, hours after his Afghan counterpart resigned over a deadly Taliban attack. Mattis, making his first visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, was due to meet top officials including President Ashraf Ghani less than two weeks after the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State hideouts in the country's east. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst, Getty Images).

US Defence Secretary James Mattis arrives by helicopter on an unannounced visit at Resolute Support headquarters in the Afghan capital Kabul on April 24, 2017, hours after his Afghan counterpart resigned over a deadly Taliban attack. Mattis, making his first visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, was due to meet top officials including President Ashraf Ghani less than two weeks after the US dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb on Islamic State hideouts in the country’s east. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst, Getty Images).

The news media heralds the terror organisation “Islamic State” (ISIS) as the pioneer of jihadi propaganda, noting how the terrorist organization has been minting coins and printing magazines in an effort to market itself as a worldwide caliphate. Newspapers of record from The New York Times to The Washington Post have discussed the alarming breadth and depth of its online presence, which continues to grow even as ISIS’s territory in Iraq, Syria, and the rest of the Muslim world shrinks by the day.

Few analysts have considered that the Taliban, whose insurgency in Afghanistan predates ISIS by almost two decades, might have inspired the caliphate’s ambitious but artless attempt at public relations. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the name by which the Taliban refers to itself and of the Islamic state that it once ruled) has produced high- and low-tech propaganda since the mid-1990s. With the Afghan government’s recent setbacks on the battlefield, perhaps the news media should start paying more attention to the Taliban’s years-long mastery of impression and reputation management.

High-Tech Propaganda for the World
Because of the Taliban’s ban on photography and videography during the insurgents’ heyday between 1994 and 2001, critics have portrayed them as conservative, rural mullahs opposed to modernity in general and technology in particular. Cultural psychologist Neil K. Aggarwal documents in “The Taliban’s Virtual Emirate: The Culture and Psychology of an Online Militant Community” that the insurgents have, in fact, always been willing to use the Internet.

The Taliban started its first website in 1998, and the insurgents’ leader had one of Afghanistan’s only two working Internet connections in his Kandahar office despite outlawing TVs and VCRs in the rest of the country. The Cultural Commission, the Taliban government agency responsible for public relations, micromanaged all propaganda. Only spokesmen appointed by the insurgents could contact the news media, allowing them to talk with one voice. Commanders who spoke to journalists of their own accord might face punishment. Online fundraisers, meanwhile, requested support for jihad.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan forced the Taliban to transition from a sovereign state to an insurgency. Nevertheless, a skeleton crew from the Cultural Commission remained to govern media intelligence and manipulation — likely from hideouts in Pakistan. It exists today, producing online magazines in Arabic, Dari, English, Pashto, and Urdu criticizing the excesses of the Americans and extolling the virtues of the mujahideen, meant to appeal to all the Muslim world.

Though the Taliban frames itself as an Afghan-led, local resistance movement when convenient, its propaganda quotes Arab theologians and references conquerors from Islamic history, encouraging African and Asian Muslims to join the Taliban and Western Muslims to attack their Christian homelands. Some of the most popular Taliban videos depict American POW Bowe Bergdahl.

A Taliban recruitment gathering in the Khak-e-Safid district of western Farah province, from online Taliban propaganda outlet Shahabat.

A Taliban recruitment gathering in the Khak-e-Safid district of western Farah province, from online Taliban propaganda outlet Shahabat.

Low-Tech Propaganda for Afghanistan
The Taliban’s Internet emirate has limited utility inside Afghanistan, with literacy at 31 percent. To engage Afghans who might lack the ability to read or write, the insurgents rely on a low-tech campaign of crowd manipulation, disinformation, intimidation, and political warfare.

From mosques in villages across the east and south of Afghanistan, Taliban preachers explain the importance of jihad against the Americans and their Afghan allies, “occupiers” and “puppets” waging a crusade against Islam. Supporters distribute cassettes and DVDs containing pro-Taliban lectures and songs even though the Taliban forbade listening to music during its brief rule. For regions against or outside Taliban control, the insurgents deliver night letters, unsigned pamphlets replete with directives and threats, to clinics, mosques, and schools in town centers.

According to the International Crisis Group, the Taliban provides Afghans in remote communities information from the battlefield through phone calls. On a wider level, the insurgents have intervened in disputes between Afghan tribes and updated the Afghan diaspora in Pakistan with printouts of their magazines, strengthening their legitimacy as a national resistance movement.

Given the U.S.-led coalition’s mishaps in its attempts at counter-propaganda, such as a British war plane crushing an Afghan girl when it dropped anti-Taliban leaflets on her by accident, the Western world may need to reconsider its own campaign to win hearts and minds.

A State Founded on Propaganda
Tim Foxley, a former analyst for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, observed as early as June 2007 in a project paper called “The Taliban’s propaganda activities: how well is the Afghan insurgency communicating and what is it saying?” that the Taliban has been outperforming the West in public relations for years. The rapid fall in the number of Afghanistan-based U.S. soldiers from a height of 140 thousand in 2010 to 8.4 thousand (of those only about 2’000 participate in a counter-terrorism mission — the rest are involved in training and advising Afghan troops), however, has seen the Taliban seize at least one fifth of the country, more than the insurgents have controlled since their emirate’s collapse in 2001.

Though newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and think tanks such as the Middle East Media Research Institute began reporting on the Taliban’s latest inroads on social media, they have missed how the insurgents’ perception management coincides with their recent territorial advances: the Taliban is laying the groundwork for the re-establishment of its Islamic state through its propaganda, and control of the Afghan countryside has given it greater opportunities to do so.

In 2015, the Taliban seized Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities. The insurgents retreated when the Afghan government received heavy air and fire support from the U.S., yet they announced that they had instead undertaken a withdrawal to avoid civilian casualties. In 2016, the Taliban overran much of Helmand, a province where farmers have long objected to the Afghan government’s efforts to police them and stop them from growing opium. There, the insurgents brand themselves as defenders of the farmers’ livelihoods while reaping the profits of the illegal drug trade.

In 2016, the Taliban has turned to Telegram and WhatsApp, Internet messaging platforms with end-to-end encryption. The insurgents have used these apps not to plot attacks or recruit foreigners as ISIS might but to deliver open letters to foreign governments, provide news to tech-savvy supporters, and request donations for orphans and widows rather than for the mujahideen (as in the past).

Like ISIS, the Taliban wants to be a state. Unlike ISIS, the Taliban has already been one, its campaign of public relations meant to ready the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s return. The news media, then, should start to consider what the insurgents’ advances on the ground and online mean for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Western intervention there. If the U.S.-led coalition wants to defeat the Taliban, it must crush the emirate that the insurgents’ propaganda seeks to establish.

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