Paul Kagame auf dem Weg zum Machterhalt

von Peter Dörrie

1280px-Paul_Kagame,_2009_World_Economic_Forum_on_Africa-2Der ruandische Präsident Paul Kagame will noch mal, das wird immer deutlicher. Eigentlich müsste sich der seit 2003 regierende Staatsmann 2017 aus Amt und Würden verabschieden, denn die ruandische Verfassung sieht maximal zwei siebenjährige Amtszeiten für den Präsidenten vor. Die Zeichen mehren sich allerdings, dass Kagame entweder die Verfassung ändern, oder dem Modell Putin folgend aus einer anderen Position die Fäden in der Hand behalten will. Schon seit geraumer Zeit fordern politische Verbündete und staatliche Medien entsprechende Schritte und auch Kagame selbst schließt eine erneute Kandidatur, anders als früher, nicht mehr aus. Besonders deutlich wird der Drang zum Machterhalt allerdings im zunehmend rabiaten Umgang ehemligen Mittsreitern Kagames, die der Präsident offenbar immer stärker als Bedrohung wahrnimmt.

Kagame ist als Führer der Rebellengruppe Rwandan Patriotic Front 1994 an die Macht gekommen. Lange dominierten Veteranen der Rwandan Patriotic Army, dem bewaffneten Arm der RPF, die Regierung und Armee des Landes. In den letzten Jahren kam es allerdings zu einer Entfremdung zwischen ex-RPA-Kadern und dem Führungskreis um Kagame. Eine ganze Reihe hoher Offiziere wurden in den letzten Jahren festgenommen oder haben sich ins Ausland abgesetzt. Darunter befinden sich unter anderem Ruandas ehemaliger Armeechef und ein ehemaliger Geheimdienstchef. Am 18. August traf es dann Frank Rusagara, einen ehemaligen Brigadegeneral und angesehenen Akademiker, dessen militärhistorische Arbeiten das Selbstverständnis der ruandischen Armee nach dem Genozid entscheidend geprägt haben. Er wurde zusammen mit zwei anderen ehemaligen Offizieren festgenommen. Allen dreien werden “Verbrechen gegen die Staatssicherheit” vorgeworfen.

Kagame with the other four East African Community Heads of States in April 2009. From left to right: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

Kagame with the other four East African Community Heads of States in April 2009. From left to right: Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.

Offenbar werden Individuen wie Rusagara durch Kagames inneren Kreis zunehmend als Gefahr wahrgenommen: Als Veteranen des Befreiungskampfes und Helden im Kampf gegen den Genozid 1994 gehören sie zu der kleinen Schicht, die Kagame politisch gefährlich werden könnte. Informationen von gut unterrichteten Quellen mit Kontakten in das politische und militärische Establishment Ruandas zufolge versucht die ruandische Regierung seit einiger Zeit planmäßig, Rusagara und andere entweder zu kooptieren, ruhig zu stellen oder zu liquidieren. Das prominenteste Opfer dieser Kampagne ist der ehemalige ruandische General Faustin Nyamwasa, der im südafrikanischen Exil schon drei Attentate überlebt hat.

Das Signal ist deutlich: Kritik an den Plänen zur Machtkonsolidierung von Paul Kagame, und sei sie noch so leise, wird nicht toleriert. Schon gar nicht von ehemaligen Weggefährten.

Posted in Peter Dörrie, Rwanda | Leave a comment

Sea Control 52 – EUCAP NESTOR and Piracy

A new voice! James Bridgers, Director of Publications at CIMSEC, is filling in for Matthew Hipples. He talks with Marko Hekkens, a Captain of the Royal Netherlands Navy on the EU project EUCAP NESTOR. EUCAP NESTOR is a civilian mission augmented with military expertise to enhance the maritime capacities of initially three to five countries in the Horn of Africa and the Western Indian Ocean. The start-up phase began in September 2012 and the three main objectives are…

  • to strengthen the Rule of Law in countries of operation;
  • to improve the maritime capacity of Djibouti and the Seychelles (and if possible additional countries) in particular through trainings for coast guard bodies;
  • to support the development of a coastal police force and the judiciary in Somalia.

By mid 2014, around 100 international staff are working in the mission, which includes personnel in the Headquarters in Djibouti as well as in the country offices. The current Head of Mission, Etienne de Poncins, was appointed on 16 July 2013. The mission’s annual budget is €12 million (Nov 2013 – Oct 2014).

Listen to episode #52 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, International, Piracy, Sea Control, Sea Powers, Somalia | Leave a comment

How to make the ‘Ebola Bomb’ and why you should stop worrying about bioterrorism

by Sandra Ivanov. Sandra Ivanov is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently an editor of the blog “Conflict and Security“, and primarily works in the non-government sector. You can find her through Linkedin or follow her updates on Twitter.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest epidemic since the virus was discovered in 1976, crossing international borders, it has claimed over 2’600 lives (as of September 18, 2014). There is no vaccine and there is no cure. Aid and medical personnel are sought from all over the world, borders have been contained, and risks of rising violent conflict continue to develop out of the Ebola eruption. However, there have been other interesting analyses of this issue on the side – media and opinion pieces are claiming that terrorist groups could get a hold of the virus and spread it around their regions, and the world (see for example Rick Noack, “Why Ebola worries the Defense Department“, The Washington Post, 05.08.2014). Well, I wanted to test this claim for myself, so with a bit of research and optimism, I’ve created a recipe to examine what a potential terrorist group would need to do to make this so-called “Ebola Bomb” – how hard could it really be?


Many studies from a health, as well as a humanities perspective, assume that terrorists could successfully generate biological or chemical agents and weaponise them. Taking this initial premise, a lot of literature has been based around this looming threat, subsequently offering policy advice, public health recommendations, and technological investment to avoid such catastrophes. However it would be useful to deconstruct this claim entirely. So I’ll begin by offering a baking recipe, to explore at the very core, what a group would need to do to successfully create a biological weapon, in this case, utilising the Ebola virus.

Firstly, any terrorist group wanting to create and weaponise a biological or chemical agent will need to have an appropriate kitchen. In the case of the Ebola virus, a standard biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) scene will be required (Adeline M. Nyamathi et al., “Ebola Virus: Immune Mechanisms of Protection and Vaccine Development“, Biological Research For Nursing 4, No. 4, April 2003: 276-281). Some features of these laboratories include decontamination mechanisms, pest management systems, air filters, and special suits. Sometimes the kitchen will have to be in a separate building, or in an isolated area within a building to meet the safety requirements. Not only will the kitchen be under strict conditions, the baking process will need to be kept in total secrecy. The constant threat of law enforcements raiding facilities, and intelligence and secret services detecting activities will have to be avoided. Also, there are only some fifty of these laboratories successfully maintained worldwide.

Before starting, make sure there is a baking dish of ‘uncertainty’ readily available to just throw all of the following ingredients into:

  • 1 Tablespoon of Proper Agent

Initially, a terrorist group must decide what kind of agent they would like to use in a bioterror attack. This is one part of the recipe which can be modified, but the other ingredients will be standard for all types of attacks. The recent spread of the deadly Ebola virus will be the agent of choice for this bomb. Ebola is a virus which is passed to humans through contact with infected animals. The spread of the virus from person-to-person is brought about through blood and bodily fluids, as well as exposure to a contaminated environment. An infected live host with Ebola would need to be maintained in a human or animal – only a few animals are able to be used as hosts, such as primates, bats, and forest antelope. Although Ebola infection of animals through aerosol particles can be effective, it has not successfully been transferred with this method to humans (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan, “Bioterrorism: Preparing for the impossible or the improbable“, Critical Care Medicine 33, No. 1, January 2005: 75-95).

  • 1 Bucket of Resources and Money

In order to develop a biological weapon, a substantial amount of material and money is required. Investment is needed from the very outset – taking into account membership size and capabilities of a terrorist group, financial assets of a group, and making sure territory and proper infrastructure is available for the biological agent. For a successful bomb to be created, a group must think about the resources they will need for each stage of the baking process, such as weapons production, potential testing phases, and logistics, such as transportation and communications technologies (Victor H. Asal, Gary A. Ackerman and R. Karl Rethemeyer, “Connections Can Be Toxic: Terrorist Organizational Factors and the Pursuit of CBRN Terrorism“, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2006). Resources needed for an “Ebola Bomb” will most likely need to be imported from the outside, and a group must determine the feasibility of acquiring the materials and technologies needed for the bomb (Jean Pascal Zanders, “Assessing the risk of chemical and biological weapons proliferation to terrorists“, The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 1999: 17-34). A surplus of money would also be a smart idea in case technical difficulties arise.

  • 5 Cups of Expertise

With all the correct resources and necessary amount of monetary support, the recipe will require the right kind of know-how. For an operation like this, a terrorist group should have members with high levels of education and training in science, engineering, and technological development, to deal with highly virulent agents, and for successful weaponisation (Zanders). A group may need to be integrated into knowledge flows and institutions, or be able to recruit members to their cause with this specific expertise (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). Knowledge and expertise is required to create the correct strain, handling the agent, growing the agent with the desired characteristics, and maintaining the agent. Taking Ebola specifically requires synthesising proteins which make it infectious, and becomes a task that is difficult and unlikely to succeed (Amanda M. Teckma, “The Bioterrorist Threat of Ebola in East Africa and Implications for Global
Health and Security
“, Global Policy Essay, May 2013). If Ebola is successfully created in the kitchen, it is not itself a biological weapon – an expert will be required to transform the virus into a workable mechanism for dissemination.

  • A Teaspoon of Risk

The decision to use biological weapons for an attack is in itself extremely risky. There is a risk that bioterrorism could cause dissenting views among followers, and that public approval and opinion may channel the way a group operates. After all, terrorists are political communicators, wanting to bring attention to their grievances. If a group becomes polarised or resented by their actions, they will not see the benefits of pursuing certain methods. Terrorists want to send powerful messages, gain more members, in which these members assist to bring about certain plans and demands. Therefore, public opinion and political opportunism will be risked in a quest to create a bioweapon such as an “Ebola Bomb” (Zanders). Secondly, a terrorist group may be subject to more scrutiny or attention. This is why keeping activities covert will be a key to success. States will be more vigilant towards groups that are known to be seeking and acquiring biological and chemical capabilities (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). And finally, risk will always cling on to funding requirements, and potential technical difficulties in all stages of the bioweapon making process.

  • A Fist of Time

Now this recipe is going to take a while to prepare and bake in the oven, and there is no particular moment to determine when it should be removed from the baking dish. So, whatever group wants to make this bomb, will need to realise this is a long-term and complex effort. It will not work like most conventional weapons, which produce a high number of casualties with a single explosion, and that could be a reason why bioterrorism is not the most popular means for a violent attack – demanding time, effort, and resources without guarantees of a concrete result. A fist full of time may be needed so that knowledge, both tacit and explicit, can be acquired, as well as accounting for the various mistakes and learning curves to overcome (Asal, Ackerman and Rethemeyer). It can also refer to how long it will take to cook up, maintain and prepare a virus for an attack. It will take time to create a successful weapon with prior testing, and wait for the correct environmental conditions when it comes to dissemination. Time will have to be a group investment – it is not the kind of bomb that will detonate immediately.

  • A Pinch of Curiosity of the Unknown

The teaspoon of risk coincides with uncertainty, and there will need to be a commitment to potential unknown factors. It is unknown what will happen once a virus is disseminated. Will the weapon even work in the first place? Weather conditions are unpredictable and Ebola will not have a prominent effect in certain environments. What happens to the terrorist group if the attack fails? What happens to the reputation of the group and its membership, or will the group cease to exist? If the recipe is a success, it is impossible to control the biological agent which is released – not only can it affect the targeted population, but it may annihilate the terrorist group itself. There will be an unknown into potentially losing local and international support, and donors if this causes widespread catastrophe.

Scientists from the Southern African Development Community region, including a sponsored postdoctoral research fellow by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance, working in the only biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in Africa, which is located at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Scientists from the Southern African Development Community region, including a sponsored postdoctoral research fellow by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance, working in the only biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in Africa, which is located at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Method: Weaponisation and Dissemination
Mix that up good in your baking dish of what is now “deep uncertainty” and pop it in the oven to bake. But as time passes, it seems as though the ingredients are not rising. The process of turning a biological agent into a weapon for attack is the phase with the most hurdles for terrorist groups. In order for a virus to inflict a lot of harm, it has to be disseminated through an effective delivery mechanism. As mentioned previously, the Ebola virus needs a live host. Weaponising a live host is more difficult than other agents which can be cultured on dishes of nutrients. The process has many stages which involve testing, refining, upgrading, and toughening. The methods to disseminate an agent are only known to few people, and rarely published – it is not a basement project (Teckman).

Let’s take Aum Shinrikyo as an example of conducting a bioterrorist attack (even it was “only” a chemical attack). This apocalyptic religious organisation in Japan managed to release sarin gas inside a Tokyo subway, killing a dozen people, and injuring 50. However, even with money and resources, they failed to effectively weaponise the chemical. Factors which led to their failure included internal secrecy and breakdown in communication; selecting members only solely dedicated to their cause to work on the weapons, ultimately employing unskilled people to operate and maintain the project, causing accidents and leaks (Zanders). Aum Shinrikyo’s attempt to disseminate botulinum toxin into Tokyo using a truck with a compressor and vents, did not work because they had not acquired an infectious strain (Sharon Begley, “Unmasking Bioterror“, Newsweek, 13.03.2010; “Chronology of Aum Shinrikyo’s CBW Activities“, Monterey Institute of International Studies, 2001). Finally, a major obstacle to successfully disseminating Ebola, is because this virus requires a specific environment in order to thrive. Weather conditions can be unpredictable, and Ebola particularly needs high temperatures and humidity to remain effective.

The emergency service tend to victims of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995 (Photo: Rex Features).

The emergency service tend to victims of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway in 1995 (Photo: Rex Features).

Decoration: Results and Conclusions
Obviously, this “Ebola Bomb” has not come close to containing the right requirements needed to explode. Looking back historically, pathogens, and all kinds of toxins have been used as tools in sabotage and assassinations since the beginning of time. Now, it would be silly to say this recipe will never work – there will always be a possibility that Ebola or other viruses may be used as biological weapons in the future. However, the likelihood of its development and use by a terrorist group is quite improbable.

Mentioning Aum Shinrikyo again, they are an organisation which at the time, had a war chest of more than $300 million, with six laboratories and a handful of biologists, in the end having insurmountable difficulties with the weaponisation and dissemination processes, and killing a dozen people (Begley). There is a greater amount of knowledge and technology available in our day and age than in 1995 with the Aum Shinrikyo attacks, but it is still unlikely that this will be the weapon of choice. Examining state biological weapons programmes, Soviet Russia had almost 60,000 personnel employed in their weapons development, with only about 100 people that actually knew how to take an agent through the full production process. In the United States, at Fort Detrick, there were 250 buildings with 3,000 personnel, and it took them a while to weaponise a single agent, such as botulinum (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan).

Nowadays, the narrative has assumed a worst case scenario analysis, and subsequently narrowed down bioterrorism to a single threat prognosis. There is little distinction made between what is conceivable and possible, and what is likely in terms of bioterrorism. Anything can be conceived as a terrorist threat, but what is the reality? The “Ebola Bomb” is not a danger. The likelihood of a bioterrorist attack remains highly unlikely (Teckman). The focus should be on preventing natural pandemics of human disease, such as tuberculosis, SARS, AIDS and influenza – emphasis placed on how we can cure diseases, and how medical training could be improved to contain, and avoid viruses such as Ebola altogether. Resources are being pumped into biodefence in the security as well as the medical sector, but preparedness and investment in bioterrorism needs to be in proportion to actual threats, otherwise, funds are diverted away from much needed public health programmes:

Diversion of resources from public health in the United States include diversion of funds needed for protection against other chemical risks – spills, leaks and explosives – and infectious diseases. Each year in the United States there are 60,000 chemical spills, leaks and explosions, of which 8,000 are classified as ‘serious’, with over 300 deaths. There are 76 million episodes of food-borne illness, leading to 325,000 hospitalisations and 5,000 deaths, most of which could be prevented. There are 110,000 hospitalisations and 20,000 deaths from influenza, a largely preventable illness, and there are 40,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths from HIV/AIDS. Diversion of resources for public health outside the US reduce the resources that can help provide protection against diseases rooted in poverty, ignorance and absence of services. — Victor W Sidel, “Bioterrorism in the United States: A balanced assessment of risk and response“, Medicine, Conflict and Survival 19, No. 4, 2003: 318-325.

The effectiveness of biological weapons has never been clearly shown, the numbers of casualties have been small and it is likely that hoaxes and false alarms in the future will continue to outnumber real events and create disruptive hysteria (Manoj Karwa, Brian Currie and Vladimir Kvetan). Emphasis needs to be back on medical research, as well as social science investigations into the roots of why terrorist groups would even want to pursue biological weapons, and the lengths they would go to use them. Let this be an avenue for further pondering and exploring, the realities of bioterrorism.

Posted in English, Proliferation, Sandra Ivanov, Security Policy, Technology, Terrorism | 4 Comments

U235, 90%, 600 Kilos – Project Sapphire

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

Schematische Darstellung der Operation “Project Sapphire”.

Der post-sowjetische Raum zu Beginn der 1990er Jahre: In einem kaum gesicherten Lagerhaus in Kasachstan liegen die nuklearen Hinterlassenschaften der ehemaligen Supermacht. Gleichzeitig durchstreifen Terroristen und die Geheimdienste diverser geächteter Regime die jungen Staaten – wie einen riesigen Trödelmarkt – und versuchen Teile der brisanten Überbleibsel aufzukaufen. Die perfekten Zutaten für einen Tom Clancy Roman? Durchaus, die folgende Geheimoperation, die der Öffentlichkeit später unter der Bezeichnung “Project Sapphire” bekannt wurde, ist allerdings keineswegs Fiktion. In Zeiten von ISIS und der Atomprogramme Nordkoreas und Irans könnte die Bedrohung auch 20 Jahre später nicht aktueller sein.

Kasachstan: abgelegen, doch bedeutungsvoll
Für die sowjetische Militärmacht spielte das Land eine gewichtige Rolle. Neben 104 SS-18 ICBMs mit 1’400 Sprengköpfen, befand sich auch das Atomtestgelände Semipalatinsk, quasi das sowjetische Alamogordo, auf dem Staatsgebiet der ehemaligen Sowjetrepublik. Daneben gab es noch zwei weitere Testgelände für Nuklearwaffen. Bis heute werden das Raketentestgelände Saryschagan und das Kosmodrom Baikonur durch Russland genutzt.

Nach dem Ende des Kalten Krieges richteten sich die Augen des Westens vor allem auf die Interkontinentalraketen, die neben Kasachstan, auch in der Ukraine und in Weißrussland stationiert waren. Sehr schnell wurde jedoch klar, dass die eigentliche Gefahr für die internationale Sicherheit nicht von den Raketen ausging, sondern von den Massen an Nuklearmaterial, die schlecht oder kaum gesichert über die ehemalige Sowjetunion verstreut waren. Daneben befanden sich eine große Menge an chemischen Waffen im Bestand der Roten Armee und die Sowjetunion forcierte bis in die Ära Gorbatschow ein ernstzunehmendes Biowaffen-Programm. Als das Ende der Sowjetunion absehbar war, bemühte sich Russland, vor allem aus politischen Gründen, taktische Kernwaffen und andere Sondermunition schnellstens auf das eigene Staatsgebiet zu schaffen. Die schiere Menge dieser Kampfmittel stellte sich allerdings als unlösbares logistisches Problem dar. In der Folge blieben insbesondere Abfallprodukte, vereinzelt aber auch überzähliges Nuklearmaterial, in verlassenen Forschungseinrichtungen und Fabriken liegen.

Cooperative Threat Reduction Program
Die Senatoren Sam Nunn (Demokrat, GA) und Richard Lugar (Republikaner, IN) etablierten sich schnell als eifrigste Fürsprecher eines Hilfsprogramms, um die Gefahr der unkontrollierten Verbreitung von ABC-Waffen bzw. Bauteilen oder sonstigen Stoffen, einzudämmen. Das als Nunn-Lugar-Act bekannt gewordene Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (CTR) bot den Staaten der ehemaligen Sowjetunion finanzielle Hilfen, um im Gegenzug die gefährlichen Hinterlassenschaften zu sichern und zu entsorgen. Gelder gab es auch dafür, die nötige Infrastruktur für die sichere Lagerung von Atommüll und Chemikalien, aufzubauen. In der Ukraine, Weißrussland und in Kasachstan lag ein besonderes Augenmerk darauf, die verbliebenen ICBMs außer Dienst zu stellen und zu zerstören, damit vor allem die Trägersysteme nicht in die falschen Hände gerieten. Seit 2003 konnten auch Staaten dem Programm beitreten, die nicht unmittelbar Teil der Sowjetunion waren. Auf diese Weise entledigte sich u.a. Albanien seiner C-Waffen Bestände.

Seltenes Bildmaterial der Geheimoperation. Kasachische Arbeiter und ein Soldat der USAF (erkennbar am N-3b Parka) verladen Uranfässer in eine C-5b Galaxy.

Seltenes Bildmaterial der Geheimoperation. Kasachische Arbeiter und ein Soldat der USAF (erkennbar am N-3b Parka) verladen Uranfässer in eine C-5b Galaxy.

Project Sapphire
Eine besondere Situation ergab sich 1994 in der Stadt Ust-Kamenogorsk, in Ostkasachstan, die seit 1947 durch die Metallindustrie geprägt war. Innerhalb der Industrielandschaft befanden sich auch die Ulba-Werke, die u.a. Beryllium für die Nuklearindustrie verarbeiteten. In diesem Industriekomplex wurde auch hochangereichertes Uran für die Reaktoren der sowjetischen U-Boote der Alfa-Klasse produziert. Die Alfa-Klasse wurde bis 1975 gebaut und nach dem Ende des Projekts blieben ca. 600 Kg hochangereichertes Uran, in Kanistern und Eimern, in einer Lagerhalle liegen, die nur mit einem einfachen Vorhängeschloss gesichert war. Wer zu diesem Zeitpunkt über das brisante Inventar der Lagerhalle Bescheid wusste, ist nicht genau klar. Überhaupt gab es in dem gerade souverän gewordenen Staat nur eine überschaubare Zahl an Offiziellen, die sich dem Problem der sowjetischen Hinterlassenschaften bewusst waren. Dazu zählte u.a. der Direktor der Ulba-Werke, Vitali Mette, der am Rande eines Besuchs von U.S. Vize-Präsident Al Gore im Dezember 1993 dem US-Diplomaten Andy Weber einen Zettel zukommen ließ, mit der folgenden Nachricht:

90 Percent
600 Kilos

Das war genug hochangereichertes Uran um ca. 20 Atombomben zu bauen. Weber leitete die Nachricht umgehend weiter, aber eine schnelle Reaktion blieb zunächst aus. Erst am Rande des Besuchs von Nursultan Nasarbajew bei Präsident Clinton im Februar 1994 kam das Thema wieder zur Sprache. Nasarbajew wollte den Fall möglichst geheim halten und das Uran an Russland zurückgeben. Die Russen wollten es allerdings nicht nehmen, da sie selbst größte Probleme hatten, ihre Bestände zu sichern. Zwischenzeitlich war Weber mit einem Experten des US-Energieministeriums nach Ust-Kamenogorsk geflogen und hatte Proben des Materials zu sammeln. Dabei bestätigte sich auch ein von der CIA lange gehegter Verdacht: In einer anderen Lagerhalle der Fabrik standen Kisten, die mit Beryllium, welches als Neutronenreflektor in Atomwaffen gebraucht wird, gefüllt waren. Die Fracht war bereits abgefertigt und die Kisten waren mit Teheran, Iran beschriftet. Vermutlich hatte nur ein dummer Zufall verhindert, dass das Material noch nicht in den Iran gelangt war. Ab diesem Zeitpunkt war allerdings klar, dass schnelles Handeln von Nöten sei. Das war der Startpunkt für die “Project Sapphire” genannte Geheimoperation, um das Material zu bergen.

Erfolgreiche Abrüstung: Auf einem ehemaligen ukrainischen Raketensilo werden im Juni 1996 Sonnenblumen gepflanzt. v.l.n.r.: Der russische Verteidigungsminister Grachev, der ukrainische Verteidigungsminister Shmarov und US-Verteidigungsminister Perry.

Erfolgreiche Abrüstung: Auf einem ehemaligen ukrainischen Raketensilo werden im Juni 1996 Sonnenblumen gepflanzt. v.l.n.r.: Der russische Verteidigungsminister Grachev, der ukrainische Verteidigungsminister Shmarov und US-Verteidigungsminister Perry.

Während im Hintergrund diplomatische Verhandlungen zwischen den Regierungen der USA und Kasachstans liefen, wurde im Pentagon ein so genanntes “Tiger Team” mit Vertretern des Verteidigungs-, Energie- und Außenministeriums gebildet, um die weitere Vorgehensweise zu beraten. Als wirtschaftlichste Alternative wurde eine Luftbrücke vorgeschlagen. Das Uran sollte durch die US-Air Force aus Ust-Kamenogorsk nach Oak Ridge in die USA geflogen werden, wo eine sichere Lagerung gewährleistet wurde. Bevor diese Operation beginnen konnte, musste allerdings noch eine Übereinkunft mit der russischen Regierung gefunden werden. Zunächst, weil der russische Luftraum benutzt werden musste und – auch wenn das Uran quasi vergessen worden ist – der russische Staat Eigentümer des Materials war. Die politischen Schwierigkeiten konnten schließlich bilateral durch die Präsidenten Nazabayew und Jelzin gelöst werden. Die operativen Vorbereitungen begannen im Sommer 1994. 32 Nuklearexperten des US-Energieministeriums wurden für den verdeckten Einsatz ausgewählt.

Die eigentlich Operation wurde am 07. Oktober 1994 mit einer “Presidential Directive” befohlen. Mit drei C-5B Galaxy Transportern von der Dover Air Force Base wurde das Team am folgenden Tag über die Türkei nach Ust-Kamenogorsk geflogen. Diese erste Phase gestaltete sich bereits äußerst abenteuerlich, da der kleine Flughafen nicht die nötige Infrastruktur für die riesigen Transportmaschinen bot und keiner der Fluglotsen englisch sprach. Mit einiger Improvisation konnte die Mannschaft abgesetzt werden und die Arbeit in der abgelegenen Industrielandschaft aufnehmen. Dabei wurde die gesamte Zeit unter Legende gearbeitet. Erschwerend kam hinzu, dass durch die Länge des politischen Entscheidungsprozesses, der Winter nahte und die Arbeiten möglichst vor dem ersten Schnee beendet sein sollten. Das Uran musste umgelagert und für den Lufttransport in sichere Behältnisse gefüllt werden. Dieser Prozess dauerte bis zum 11. November 1994 und die letzte Galaxy verließ Kasachstan am 19. November 1994, bereits in dichtem Schneefall. Insgesamt waren sechs Flüge notwendig, um 448 Uran-Behältnisse und das Team wieder in die USA zu fliegen. Dabei wurde aus Sicherheitsgründen kein Zwischenstopp eingelegt, sondern die Maschinen wurden zweimal in der Luft betankt.

Preventive Defense
Um das Projekt zu ermöglichen ist erwartungsgemäß eine Menge Geld geflossen: 27 Millionen Dollar wurden an Kasachstan gezahlt und drei Millionen an die Ulba-Werke, in deren Lagerhallen das Uran gelagert war. Am 23. November wurde die Operation in einer Pressekonferenz der Öffentlichkeit publik gemacht. U.S. Verteidigungsminister William Perry hob dabei in einem kurzen Statement besonders folgendes hervor:

We have just transferred approximately 600 kilograms of weapons grade highly enriched uranium out of Kazakhstan at the request of the government of Kazakhstan, and delivered the material to the Department of Energy’s Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge in Tennessee for safe and secure storage. In other words we have just placed in safe hands enough nuclear material from the former Soviet arsenal to make more than 20 nuclear devices. In fact, some of this material was in a form that could be used directly to make nuclear weapons.

By removing it from the Ulba Metallurgical Facility in Kazakhstan where it was stored, and placing it at the Y-12 plant, we have put this bomb-grade nuclear material forever out of the reach of potential black marketeers, terrorists, or a new nuclear regime. — William J. Perry et al, “DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, et al“, 23.11.1994.

“Project Sapphire” war nicht nur eine erfolgreiche Operation zur Bekämpfung von Proliferation, sondern vor allem Ausdruck eines neuen Denkens in der amerikanischen Sicherheitspolitik, das als “preventive defense” bezeichnet wurde. Die Doktrin der Abschreckung war zwar niemals gänzlich suspendiert, der Fokus der einzig verbliebenen Supermacht lag in den 1990er Jahren allerdings stärker auf einer Mischung aus präventiven und offensiven Maßnahmen. Eine Hinterlassenschaft dieser Zeit, die gesamte Bush-Ära und die erste Administration Obamas überdauerte, war das CTR. Im Jahr 2012 bekundete Russland das Abkommen auslaufen zu lassen, wobei im Jahr 2013 eine neue Übereinkunft zur Bekämpfung von Proliferation zwischen den USA und Russland getroffen wurde.

Weitere Informationen


Posted in Danny Chahbouni, History, International, Proliferation, Security Policy | Leave a comment

US foreign policy: muddling through, satisficing or boiling frog?

by Andrew Smith. He published the following article August 25, 2014 on The Strategist, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Blog. In the meantime, US President Barack Obama formulated, how he wants “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. Obama’s statement was meant as a strategic communication to the nation and not as a comprehensive strategy, which will address the root causes of the problem (see also Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Noah Bonsey, “To Stop ISIS in Syria, Support Aleppo“, The New York Times, 14.09.2014). Therefore, thinks that the main criticism on the decision making of the Obama administration in foreign policy, formulated in Smith’s article, is still valid. Do you agree or disagree with our view? Use the comment section below to express your own thoughts!

West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen briefs President Barack Obama prior to the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement (Photo: Pete Souza).

West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen briefs President Barack Obama prior to the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement (Photo: Pete Souza).

The last couple of months have provided an opportunity to see in action President Barack Obama national security strategy articulated in his 28 May speech at West Point which was elaborated subsequently, and less formally, with a complementary doctrine of “don’t do stupid (stuff)…“.

Considerable effort has gone into analysing that strategy, both in these pages and elsewhere. Policy tragics are honour-bound to try to place a stated approach within established theory. Early on, Joshua Rovner attempted to classify Obama’s foreign policy approach as “muddling through“, the alternative term for Charles E. Lindblom’sincrementalism” model of public-policy decisionmaking. Under that model, most policy is made in “baby steps”, embracing improvements at a rate the polity can handle—albeit one that never quite achieves the desired objective.

That approach is contrasted often with “maximisation”, in which expansive, rational examination of all possible options leads to the selection and bold implementation of the “best” one. Maximisation could describe some of the administration’s domestic policy initiatives, where it’s shown an appetite for strong, risky action: the Affordable Care Act was certainly bold, as are some of the ideas mooted for immigration reform. In this field, the president has led change aggressively—but not in foreign policy.

Some say Herbert Simon’s model of “satisficing” or bounded rationality may better describe Obama’s foreign policy approach. Satisficing involves making policy decisions that are simply satisfactory for an adequate number of interested parties at the time, rather than optimal for the whole over the long run. As Robert Kagan has pointed out, the president tends to aim for the “dead centre” of public opinion in foreign policy matters—to make decisions that minimise dissatisfaction in the electorate rather than produce the optimal long-term outcome. In this context, the “stupid stuff test” for foreign policy decisions is the extent to which they unsettle current public opinion rather than the danger they may add to a future situation. So far, the electorate hasn’t demanded more of this administration’s foreign policy.

Since the West Point speech, circumstances have certainly led Obama to do some things that weren’t anticipated then, both in Iraq and in relation to Ukraine. But among some shrewd commentators there is a growing sense that responses aren’t keeping pace with developments—that the circumstances require bolder action, even if most people don’t want it, and that the administration must inform the popular debate more effectively. And those voices are coming from close to—or within—the administration: Secretary of State John Kerry and retired General John Allen have said as much in relation to ISIS in Iraq, while Hillary Clinton has pointed out the inadequacies of “don’t do stupid stuff” as an organising principle for a great nation.

Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle. — Hillary Clinton in Jeffrey Goldberg, “Hillary Clinton: ‘Failure’ to Help Syrian Rebels Led to the Rise of ISIS“, The Atlantic, 10.08.2014.

A preference for satisficing decisions is particularly risky given a background of shrinking US defence capacity. Projected downsizing means America won’t be able to field as much force in the future, making it all the more critical to understand the opportunity costs of satisficing (or muddling through) and to seize chances to arrest deteriorating situations (like Iraq and Ukraine).

This rather pessimistic picture calls to mind the popular American metaphor of the boiling frog, swimming happily in its pot of gradually warming water until it’s too late to jump out. For a frog, with limited options, jumping out of the pot maximises the outcome. A great power like the US, leading like-minded but less powerful countries, should instead be looking for ways to turn down the heat. Satisficing might prevent the pot from boiling over, but the water is likely to be uncomfortably hot for a long time.

Posted in Andrew Smith, English, Politics in General, Security Policy | Leave a comment

Cartoon of the month: Terror Games


Iranian cartoonist Mohsen Izadi sees ISIS (also known by the derogatory term “Daesh” in the Arab world) as a new political toy in the Middle East, without their own will or political ideology. This does beg the question: who is at the controls?

Mohsen Izadi is an Iranian artist who has been active in the field of cartooning since 2003.

Posted in Cartoon, English, Terrorism | Leave a comment

Sea Control 51 – Falklands War and 45 Commando

Alexander Clarke, Principal Researcher of the Phoenix Think Tank did a series of interviews and panels about the Falklands War. With Sea Control 51, he begins the series with an interview with Ian Gardiner, who commanded a rifle company in 45 Commando Royal Marines in the Falklands War. Before this mission, he fought in the Dhofar War in Oman from 1973 to 1975, where he was decorated with the Omani Distinguished Service Medal for Gallantry. Later, Gardiner commanded 40 Commando Royal Marines, which included his fourth operational tour in Northern Ireland from 1994 to 1996. He has also been the Royal Marines Equerry to HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and, in 1997, graduated from the Royal College of Defence Studies. His final appointment was Secretary to the Military Committee at NATO Headquarters in Brussels where he was involved in the political and strategic direction of the Kosovo War. He left the Royal Marines in 2001 in the rank of brigadier.

This is a very interesting interview, especially for anybody, who is interested in military history and military leadership.

Published books by Ian Gardiner

Listen to episode #51 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, History, International, Leadership, Sea Control | Leave a comment

ISIS: Here to Stay! – Part 2/3

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.

Plotted above are the range rings related to NATOs PAC-3 deployment and the various refugee camps confirmed on satellite imagery. Interestingly, the refugee camp locations predominantly reside in the PAC-3s overlapping fields of fire (OFOF), i.e. the most effective kill zone for the patriots. Though not displayed above, but perhaps just as important, the Sarmada and Bab a-Hawa crossings, a key control area for FSA resupply, are also located in the OFOF (Source: Chris B, "Syria & NATO’s Patriots in Turkey", OSIMINT, 30.08.2013).

Plotted above are the range rings related to NATOs PAC-3 deployment and the various refugee camps confirmed on satellite imagery. Interestingly, the refugee camp locations predominantly reside in the PAC-3s overlapping fields of fire (OFOF), i.e. the most effective kill zone for the patriots. Though not displayed above, but perhaps just as important, the Sarmada and Bab a-Hawa crossings, a key control area for FSA resupply, are also located in the OFOF (Source: Chris B, “Syria & NATO’s Patriots in Turkey“, OSIMINT, 30.08.2013).

Turkey – Rising Profile In the Middle East
Turkey’s primary interest is to replace Bashar al-Assad. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP Party is itself an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood ideology. The AKP’s origins in the Turkish National Outlook Movement and its Welfare Party have already included elements of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egyptian and Tunisian and have facilitated ideological closeness. Turkey is thus hosting the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces with its strong Syrian brotherhood core. The MB is a third Islamist option in many countries, competing with the Wahhabist respectively Salafist ways of Sunni Islam often infuenced by Saudi-Arabia and with the Shiites often affiliated with Iran. Turkey has been trying to foster a MB block in the Middle East cooperating with Qatar, Egypt under Mohamed Morsi, developping ties with Hamas and even been accused of supporting MB elements in Libya’s post-Qaddafi struggle.

Turkey is no official supporter of ISIS which is Salafist and Jihadist but nonetheless not Saudi-backed. Yet, the real threats for Turkey are Syrian Scuds, since al-Assad is effectively resisting Turkey’s aspirations of reshaping Syria. Hence it has called on NATO to help protect its cities using Patriot Air Defense systems in order to deter al-Assad’s retaliation from the very beginning. Nevrteheless,throughout the last years, Turkey has often been accused of helping radical elements in Syria including Al-Qaeda affiliates and also ISIS fighters by leaving its borders open as safe space to retreat and medically assisting their wounded. Turkey’s calculations have only recently been changed, since ISIS has made territorial gains. ISIS is now a factor in Turkish calculations, but should Turkey be forced to choose then overthrowing al-Assad is more important. ISIS is no threat to the Turkish Army; Kurdish independence and Syrian Scuds are directly against Turkish interests and cannot be handled by its strong army. Turkey was content to see ISIS fight al-Assad and the Rojava-Kurds in Northwestern Syria. Thus, Turkey’s actions can be characterized as moderating support that indirectly also ended in ISIS hands through its changing balance of power calculations.

The bombings of Reyhanli and the hostage taking of Turkish staffers in Mosul are interpretated as ISIS way of blackmailing Turkey into keeping its borders open. Using ISIS has become a dangerous game for the Turkish government, but the absence of ISIS might strengthen al-Assad, and Kurds in Syria thus it is an important player that for now is indispensable. Another part of the calculation is that besides official rhetoric Turkish-Iranian relations are characterized by mistrust and competition and Turkey seeks to contain Iran.

Thus, ISIS serves Turkey in three ways: it fights al-Assad, it fights Kurds in Northeastern Syria and it is actively binding Iranian troops and assets in Syria and Iraq.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Ambassador to Washington and from 2012-2014 head of Saudi intelligence.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former Saudi Ambassador to Washington and from 2012-2014 head of Saudi intelligence.

Saudi-Arabia – A Sunni View
Saudi-Arabia sees the recent events in Syria and Iraq through its own conflict with Iran. Two Iranian allies have come under fire from ISIS. Like the US, Saudi-Arabia sees the fall of al-Assad as a vital requirement for equilibrium in the region, but also wants to see Sunnis in Iraq empowered. Even the Saudi government does not support ISIS, the Saudis (and Qataris) have been unable or unwilling to stop the flow of money and recruits towards ISIS and other islamist factions around the world. Thus, on the one side private financiers from the Gulf states and Waqfs (a religious endowment, correct plural from Arabic: Awqaf) channel money to Salafist groups as ISIS or al-Nusra Front while on the other side Saudi-Arabia officially supports the Assad-opposition of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Sauds compete for influence with Turkey that favors the MB elements in Syria, whereas they favor the Sunni tribal elements. Only recently has Saudi-Arabia acted, when ISIS came close to the Iraqi-Saudi border. As soon as ISIS is far enough it can be used as a player on the regional field.

However, there is a darker side to this story. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once Ambassador to Washington and from 2012-2014 head of Saudi intelligence is quoted as revealing to the former british MI6 chief Richard Dearlove:

The time is not far off in the Middle East, Richard, when it will be literally “God help the Shia”. More than a billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them. — Prince Bandar bin Sultan, cited in Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country“, The Independent, 13.07.2014.

The Sauds have mastered their approach of suppressing Jihadism within their state and effectively encouraging it abroad to use it as a force against anything Shia. The problem for the Sauds is that ISIS is so tempting to use. ISIS is politically anti-Assad and anti-Maliki (or its successor from the same party), and ideologically anti-Shia while also anti-Al-Qaida, the Islamist group active in Saudi-Arabia and the most feared internal threat to the House of Saud. ISIS hates too many of the same people the Sauds dislike. Thus, Gulf states proceed on this hybrid approach: Officially they are against all the extremist groups, Al-Qaida affiliated or ISIS affiliated, but their people are able to channel money to them. Essentially, the funding is coming from Saudi-Arabia and the other Gulf states, but is not of those states. Riyadh will not support Iraq under Maliki or a similar successor. For example, King Abdullah refused to meet his neighbor as he perceived him to be an Iranian agent.

Iran – The Shia Response
Iran’s calculations are pinned against US interests in the region as well as a mirror of the Saudi perception – same terms and thougths but diametrically opposed perception. Tehran wants to keep the own allies in power, especially now as it has invested heavily into both wars. The amount of fighting forces invested into Iraq is hard to estimate, but as already three Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) members have died there, at least one, Colonel Kamal Shirkhani, in the Shia-holy city of Samarra, it can be assessed as substantial for a force officially not deployed. Furthermore, Iran has invested into local Shia militias that it now mobilized to fight for al-Assad and protect Shia sites in Syria, and more recently to secure Baghdad, Samarra and the surrounding areas. There are estimates of up to 20,000 militiamen in Iraq alone. Iran has not only diverted militias and resources from Syria, but actively put large military forces into play. Iranian tanks of the 81st division were seen crossing into Southern Kurdistan which could help the Kurds as mobile artillery in the fight against highly mobile ISIS forces.

This photo reportedly depicts an Iranian 81st Division M-60A1 in Khaneghein, Iraq (via social media).

This photo reportedly depicts an Iranian 81st Division M-60A1 in Khaneghein, Iraq (via social media).

In Iraq ISIS is a direct threat to Shia power, even intra-Shiite unit has suffered throughout the crisis. In Syria, again, the situation is more complex. Here, ISIS is one of many anti-Assad factions rivaling for power. It effectively triggered fighting among the armed opposition as well as within the Islamist camp by challenging the al-Nusra Front. Currently it cannot reach Damascus. Thus, it is far more useful and less dangerous in Syria than in Iraq. It would be more beneficial for Iran to take on ISIS in Syria only once the other factions have been weakened or defeated. There is another difference between Iraq and Syria according to Karim Sadjadpour from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

The Iranians have seemingly calculated that they cannot preserve their interests in Syria without Bashar Assad. They have not made those same calculations about Maliki. — Karim Sadjadpour cited in Babak Dehghanpisheh et al, “Iran’s elite Guards fighting in Iraq to push back Islamic State“, Reuters, 03.08.2014.

This reveals how broad Iranian influence in Iraq is. It can choose among different politicians, support different groups (Shia, Kurds, minorities), set up militias and directly intervene with ease. Iran will protect this power at much cost. ISIS, among other Sunni forces in the region is a threat to Iranian interests, but by far not the pivotal one. Iran will mostly rely on Iraqi and Kurdish forces to push back ISIS away from its borders and into Sunni areas in Syria (Ar-Raqqa, Deir Az-Zor), where in Iran’s view it can wreak havoc on Sunnis that have a different interpretation of Islam, the FSA and Al-Qaeda affiliates such as the al-Nusra Front.

Syria – Ground Zero of the Geopolitical Rivalry
Syria essentially follows Iran’s “enemy of my enemy-logic”. Additionally, al-Assad can present the looming threat of Islamists in the country and himself as the least among evils to choose from. All players involved must now ask themselves, what comes after al-Assad and how to make sure it is not ISIS that gains from the civil war. The other alternative is the Saudi and Turkey backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, but as argued before it has a strong MB core that the West is deliberately overlooking right now. The MB could be one of the best organized groups once the country enters the post-Assad phase. The notion of a “moderate” opposition is such a convenient lie told by the West to the West to allow at least one course of action. Moreover, within the civil war in Syria ISIS has effectively divided the armed opposition groups involuntarily aiding the Assad regime. Especially, ISIS is a counterforce to the Rojava-Kurds aspirations of autonomy which they cannot effectively achieve as long as they have to fight for their survival.

Al-Assad and ISIS, although at war, have at times come to cooperate. The oil fields ISIS controls would be useless if they could not sell it. The Assad regime buys some of the oil it needs back or allowed this oil to be sold at government controlled ports. Thus they are both entrapped in a mutually dependent war economy. This also explains the often alleged soft approach of the Assad regime against ISIS. Right now the Assad regime, ISIS and FSA are at war with each other. Whereas the regime and the FSA battle over the population rich centers in western Syria, including Aleppo and the regimes stronghold around Latakia, ISIS is still relatively far off east and has just conquered the last Syrian army base in the Ar-Raqqah Governorate. ISIS understands its guerilla tactics require infiltrating population rich areas before striking. Thus, it has advanced along the Euphrates and Tigris in Iraq and conquered parts of eastern Syria. It cannot directly move through the Syrian desert, where it is openly attackable by Assad forces.

Military Bases in Syria  and ISIS' advance in Eastern Syria along towns on Euphrates river (Source: Jennifer Cafarella, "ISIS works to merge its Northern front across Iraq and Syria", Institute for the Study of War, 09.08.2014).

Military Bases in Syria and ISIS’ advance in Eastern Syria along towns on Euphrates river (Source: Jennifer Cafarella, “ISIS works to merge its Northern front across Iraq and Syria“, Institute for the Study of War, 09.08.2014).

ISIS’ way to Damascus leads throug Aleppo, where it will reach the stonghold of the FSA and the center of gravity of the Syrian Army. Through this complex interplay of government and opposition forces the Assad regime currently does not focus its forces on ISIS. To retake Syria, Assad must secure Damascus and the surroundings, and after it took the Lebanese border regions last June (Battle of al-Qusayr) it must now conquer Aleppo. Now, with Al-Taqba Air base taken ISIS’ way towards Aleppo is free. If it continues its advance it will meet the main forces of the Syrian Army, the al-Nusra Front and the FSA in and around Aleppo, where the battle for Syria’s future might rage soon.

The Syrian Vice Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told The Guardian when asked why the Syrian regime seemingly spared ISIS:

I know the rumours,[... b]ut to those who claim that Syria is not doing its best to combat this group, I answer that if these extremists – Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free [Syrian] Army and Isis – are killing themselves and fighting for more influence and expansion, do you think we are sad? But the Syrian army has its priorities and we shall decide what to do next. — Syrian Vice Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad cited in Ian Black, “Bashar al-Assad is west’s ally against Isis extremists, says Syria“, The Guardian, 14.07.2014.

Assad’s priority is to survive and regain control of Syria. Taking Aleppo is his best chance. In order to do so, he must defeat the opposition on the battlefield and ISIS has had a role in his considerations. Al-Assad’s survival depends on how well he keeps his own forces together and how effectively he divides his opponents. Additionally, he tried to use the abhorrent violence of ISIS to break the international condemnation of his regime. His narrative is that he is the only one truely fighting religious extremism in the Middle East while Turkey and even the West implicitly support it right now. In sum, the regime in Damascus and ISIS are at war with each other. However, al-Assad sees ISIS as one of three major enemy groups and not as his sole threat. This more complex interplay of groups explains al-Assad’s alleged complicity with ISIS as a sheer military-political consideration of perception and balance of power within the Syrian civil war. ISIS still is not number one on his list.

ISIS is at war with everyone. It is everyones enemy, but seen through the lense of war for regional dominance potentially more dangerous to one’s enemy. Even Iran and Syria believe it is better to have Ar-Raqqa and Dair Az-Zor with oil, population and strategically important borders controlled by ISIS than see the larger factions of the al-Nusra Front, the Kurds or the FSA strengthened by these assets. After analyzing the states involved, part 3 will assesses the intra-Iraqi factions.

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

PLA tries its hand at transparency

by Simon Hansen. He is an intern with ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre where he works on cybersecurity issues and China’s strategic challenges. This article was published there at first.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan in Beijing, China April 8, 2014.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel meets with Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan in Beijing, China April 8, 2014.

The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) military modernisation programs are often criticised for their lack of transparency, with commentators citing an increased risk of regional insecurity as capabilities expand in the shadows. But in China’s perspective, transparency doesn’t automatically drive strategic stability. Transparency can display strength if you have it, or expose weakness if you don’t. For rising powers like China, displaying cards that show a weakish—albeit strengthening—hand could invite adverse responses from strong states. A stronger player may want to undermine the PLA and hinder its effectiveness, if it judged its own future security was threatened.

So transparency represents a dilemma for China’s security planners: they want—perhaps begrudgingly—to show enough of their growing capabilities to limit suspicion and hardening attitudes against them, but not so much that they would risk revealing their vulnerabilities.

In recent months, the PLA has attempted to resolve that contradiction. At the end of the RIMPAC exercises, Zhao Xiaogang, drill director of the Chinese fleet said “the Navy has shown an image full of openness and confidence and deepened mutual understanding between countries”. At the Ministry of National Defence, the monthly press conference was open for the first time to foreign journalists. In April, the US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was granted his request to step onto the flight deck of the PLAN Liaoning. And, at the anniversary of the founding of the PLA in early August, China’s military schools were opened to international media for the first time.

At face value, there’s a genuine effort to show off China’s military. But at the same time, as one commentator suggested, “if the PLA is serious about transparency, it will have to do more than allow Chuck Hagel to tour its symbolic aircraft carrier”. These attempts reflect China’s dilemma: how do you display an attitude of transparency, without actual transparency? And, importantly, how do you avoid perceptions that you are feigning transparency in lieu of real openness?

There’s much China refuses to discuss, such as its disruptive technologies like nuclear missiles and cyber. In those areas, the PLA’s programs remain a black box. Gregory Kulacki at the Union of Concerned Scientists explains that China’s refusal to discuss the size and capabilities of its nuclear forces is due to the US pursuit of a missile shield, as that “undermines Chinese confidence in US assurances that greater Chinese transparency would not undermine Chinese security”. In cyber, the Obama administration held an extraordinary briefing for the Chinese military leadership in April on the Pentagon’s emerging cyber doctrine. China didn’t reciprocate, despite an expectation on the part of the US that it would do so.

President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama in March 2014 in The Hague. They discussed the issue of computer spying (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times).

President Xi Jinping of China and President Obama in March 2014 in The Hague. They discussed the issue of computer spying (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times).

China believes that transparency benefits stronger powers and undermines its own policy of deterrence. Therefore it judges that greater transparency isn’t necessarily in its interest. And that means the PLA is likely to continue only token efforts of transparency until it perceives that it gains more from actual transparency. Arguably, that trend may have already begun. Benjamin Schreer has argued that a shift is already underway and “strategic ambiguity” in China’s regional strategy is looking increasingly obsolete. Part of China’s coercion, says Schreer, is to display its power. In China, Yang Xiyu, a senior researcher with the China Institute of International Studies recently spoke on the Chinese program “Key Insights” about increased PLA transparency and China’s emerging strategic self-confidence.

Importantly, the PLA’s symbolic efforts at transparency are not necessarily discouraging. China wants a favourable, open international image without prejudice to its defence posture. There’s a middle ground between revealing capabilities that show weakness, and revealing nothing and thereby implying a more worrying posture. The PLA’s behaviour in recent months suggest it is willing to find compromises and that’s a good sign. Perhaps China’s coming to the conclusion that it benefits from being more open about its capabilities. If so, that trend would help regional defence planners adapt with more certainty.

In the short term, the region should expect more from China. China’s strong military power make a transparent approach more appropriate. And there has been a pattern in China’s current leadership that appears to show increased accountability. President Xi Jinping is at the forefront of an anti-graft campaign within the PLA – and China writ large – and has shown he is keen to macro-manage the military, using the National Security Commission, the Central Military Commission (a position China’s leaders naturally assume), and the new leading group for deepening reform on national defence and the military.

Minister for Defence David Johnston pointed out at the Shangri-La Dialogue that transparency is key to promoting regional peace and security. And while most states would ostensibly share that sentiment, the picture is incomplete. Transparency can work against rising powers, even as it works in favour of their neighbours and of stronger powers. China is playing its cards close to its chest. But Beijing also understands that its military growth concerns others, and that it can sometimes gain more from being more open.

Posted in China, English, International, Simon Hansen | Leave a comment

First of Chad’s MIG-29 Arrives In N’Djamena

Image 1: DG (03JUL14) N'Djamena airbase.

Image 1: DG (03JUL14) N’Djamena airbase.

Satellite imagery acquired by DigitalGlobe on 03JUL14 shows the arrival of Chad’s first MIG-29 at N’Djamena airbase.

Over the last decade, Chad and Sudan have been engaged in a serious proxy war to support armed opposition groups in their respective countries. This support intensified near the end of 2005. Since then, both countries have attempted to bring the various warring parties back under control—though with little success.

Despite cooler heads prevailing, Chad continued with the acquisition of more advanced aircraft like the MIG-29 multirole fighter, especially since neighboring Sudan had already acquired the platform from Belarus in mid-2008. Sudan’s MIG-29 can be observed on imagery at the Wadi Sayedna air base where they were recently joined by three Su-24 ground attack aircraft, also delivered by Belarus.

News of Chad’s pending MIG-29 acquisition surfaced in April 2009 when President Idriss Déby was quoted by the Chadian website Tchadactuel:

No African country except Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa has the weapons that Chad has today. In addition to what I have today, I am trying to acquire others. As I speak, my little brother Umar Deby, accompanied by the chief-of-staff of the air force, is in Ukraine, negotiating the acquisition of three MiG-29s, pilots, mechanics, and ammunition (Source: Stijn Mitzer, “First Chadian MiG-29 seen in the air“, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 29.05.2014).

Afterward, little else was heard regarding Chad’s plans – that was until recently. Oleg Volkov, posting on the plane-spotting website in May, showed African watchers their first glimpse of an airborne MIG-29 painted in Chad’s camouflage scheme. Volkov tagged his photo’s location in Lviv, Ukraine suggesting that the Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant (or LDARZ) overhauled the MIG-29 for export.

Image 2: DG (06APR14) Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant.

Image 2: DG (06APR14) Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant..

Located in western Ukraine, LDARZ is one of country’s oldest aircraft repair plants with services for fourth generation aircraft like the MIG-29 going back to the early 1990s. While it is currently unknown what variant Chad ordered, LDARZ is capable of upgrading the platform to the MU1 (FULCRUM C) standard, a capability it reportedly acquired in 2005. The MU1 upgrade includes the SN-3307 GPS/GLONASS satellite navigation system, overhauled Klimov RD-33 engines, and an increased aerial targeting range. If the aircraft is the MU1 standard, a small blister should be visible on the aircraft’s spine where technicians would have installed additions to the navigation system. Future handhelds may provide more insight.

In the meantime, satellite imagery indicates the initial aircraft was overhauled by the LDARZ with aircraft in existing inventory. A review of historical imagery over the past couple of years has consistently shown 15 MIG-29 in open storage at the plant. The latest imagery from 06APR14 (image 2) shows one aircraft missing, suggesting it was in a maintenance hangar or out conducting test flights. Not surprising, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has consistently ranked Ukraine as one of the 10 largest exporters of major conventional weapons for most of its years since independence. According to SIPRIs trade registry, Chad’s air force had already received six Su-25 (Frogfoot) ground attack aircraft from Ukraine between 2008 and 2010. Imagery from 03JUL14 confirms that they are based at N’Djamena.

Image 3: DG (09NOV13) Su-25 Abéché.

Image 3: DG (09NOV13) Su-25 Abéché.

Interestingly, imagery from 03JUL14 (image 1) also shows two more Su-25 on the parking apron at N’Djamena. With the platform often deployed out to Abéché (image 3), it is unclear who delivered the additional aircraft and when they arrived—though Ukraine may be a possible candidate (The Evpatoria Aircraft Repair Plant located in the Crimea had not been taken over by Russia at the time of initially delivery). Luckily for us, the new Su-25 have a different color camouflage scheme than those previously sent, making them easy to track. Imagery first captured these aircraft on Google Earth back in September 2013 (Historical imagery from June 2013 did not show any additional Su-25). A further dig into historical imagery has shown up to four Su-25 with this different camo pattern, suggesting that Chad now has up to 10 of the aircraft. At least two are known to be the UB trainer variant delivered from Ukraine in 2008.

While some things are still fuzzy regarding Chad’s arms acquisitions, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Chad is one of those growing African countries always looking to acquire more advanced military equipment. While the utility to which that equipment can be employed is questionable, Chad appears to be reacting to a regional arms race dynamic that shows no signs of slowing.

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