Archive for ‘Africa’

January 4, 2012

Extended Version: South Africa needs to prove it deserves a UNSC seat

I have a new post up on UN Dispatch on South Africa’s Presidency of the UN Security Council this month. The piece calls upon South Africa to not waste its opportunity to show that it can be a strong leader on several issues, the main thrust of which is quoted here:

[Bringing Zimbabwe to the UNSC], or the burgeoning crisis in South Sudan, would reflect on South Africa’s desire to hold a permanent seat at Council by displaying a desire to engage with the Council, though each with different motives behind it. Despite its rapid return to a seat around the Horseshoe table, the regional rotation method practised by the African bloc in the General Assembly in no way guarantees that South Africa will be returning anytime soon or reflects international support. It most certainly won’t be in a position to wield the gavel as President again during its current term. This may well be South Africa’s last big chance for many years to prove that it has what it takes to keep and hold for continuity a seat in the Council’s chambers. Simply sleepwalking through the month of January isn’t an option; if South Africa really wants to earn its permanent seat, its time is now.

An avenue I didn’t explore in that article was the other end of the spectrum, away from the idea of further promotion of human rights and more towards the dog-eat-dog world of international politics. Were the Mission more Machiavellian, they could well seek to use their ability to set the agenda to cut off the hopes of another potential candidate. Nigeria, as has been talked about here, is in the middle of multiple problems that are compounding. Protests have been set off by the ending of fuel subsidies, Boko Haram is a threat to regional peace and security, and Nigeria’s government’s troubles are poised to spill across the borders. Or so South Africa could argue, as it places ‘The Situation in Nigeria’ on the Security Council’s agenda. Unlikely, but considering the mercurial nature of President Zuma’s foreign policy it could happen. The wisdom of actually pulling the trigger on such a tactic is questionable, but at least it would be doing something and potentially even helping solve the problem, an accomplishment South Africa has been lacking as of late.

A strong South Africa on the world stage has been the assumption for years, considering their high level of development in comparison to other states on the continent. But the country has been resting on its laurels for years, both under the presidencies of Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. When it has tried to engage with the international community, it’s been a muddled and haphazard affair. Deferrence is still granted towards South Africa at the UN, as well it should be considering its potential. But if it really wants to join the most exclusive club as a Permanent Member, it needs to prove it.

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December 30, 2011

Goodluck Needed to Combat Religious Tensions Rising in Nigeria

Once confined to the realm of lesser known terrorist organizations, Boko Haram has vastly stepped up its campaign in recent weeks and months. The group originally garnered some sympathy for the less than ideal conditions faced by Nigeria’s Muslims in the north of the country. An empathy towards the group has long since faded, as since 2009 its rhetoric and actions have taken a hard tack towards greater shows of violence, following the killing of its founder. The group bombed UN headquarters in Abuja in August, killing 23 people and setting off a new round of condemnation and crackdown by the government with Boko Haram continuing to push back.

The struggle reached a crescendo on Christmas Day. Five churches across Nigeria were bombed by Boko Haram. Nearly forty died in the violence, with many more wounded. Boko Haram quickly took credit for the carnage, prompting a harsh condemnation from the Nigerian government and the international community. Nigerian authorities moved quickly to arrest two suspects, though when asked about details, the government only said that the two were “caught in action”.

The Christmas Day bombings were a nightmare, but the worst is potentially yet to come. Two days later, a homemade bomb was thrown into an Islamic school where students were learning the Qu’ran. Seven were wounded in the attack, six of whom were children under the age of nine. The bombing sparked a fierce debate on Twitter over the targeting of civilians in times of conflict and strife, especially children. No matter what your enemy deems is a justifiable target, there are standards that must be followed and fiercely protected if you’re to have any semblance of the upper hand, both morally and in terms of protecting your own people. Retaliatory strikes against civilian populations only engender further attacks against your own population, as they are clearly marked as fair game to both sides. The escalation is inevitable once both sides take that initial step, leaving both sides depleted and wrecked if and when the conflict finally comes to a close, made all the less likely due to the feelings of resentment that are sure to linger.

It’s still unknown who threw that bomb into the madrassa, though police suspect it was a local vigilante. What is known is that the Christian community in Nigeria is asking for a response from the state, and rightly so. President Goodluck Jonathan’s government is fast losing the confidence of its Christian constituents:

“It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria,” Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said. “CAN has found the responses of … Islamic bodies on this matter to be unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities.”

“The Christian Community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights.”

President Jonathan’s problems are multiple at this stage. The second that Christian groups truly lose faith in his government’s ability protect them, that’s it. Game over. Boko Haram will have won. A demographic that has determined that the government’s monopoly on the use of force no longer benefits them will seize it for themselves, leading to larger and bloodier clashes. It is my belief that the chaos that would come from a such an escalation would allow for an upswing of violence in the Niger Delta. MEND has threatened recently to break its cease-fire with the state and could take advantage of the discord in an attempt to bring about its own separation in the event of a North-South split. Such large-scale sectarian conflict between the North and South would quickly spill over into neighboring countries, and disrupt the entirety of West Africa. All of these things serve to weaken the central government, Boko Haram’s primary goal.

The solution cannot be one solely of force, however. A two-track approach should be adopted by President Jonathan to simultaneously discourage Boko Haram from further attacks, while working to adjudicate the legitimate grievances that launched the group on its current path, rather than the heavy-handed military-driven response seen previously. The majority of the oil wealth of Nigeria is produced in the South, the production of which has allowed Nigeria to become the powerful state it has today. The income raised from oil must be more equitably distributed into programs in the North for development. Political power must be spread further as well, bringing elites and those representative of various Muslim groups into the fold of government. Alleviating these problems, however, cannot come without the show of force and restoration of central control that is needed to suppress the movement’s practitioners of violence and provide assurances to the Christian community that the government takes its protection seriously. Through this dual-track, Goodluck Jonathan can both eliminate the current stable of fighters while ending the main draw for new recruits.

The Nigerian government doesn’t have to act alone in this matter. One of the more muscular of regional organizations, ECOWAS has long stepped outside of its original scope as an economic alliance, and has often provided military support to its members as they face violence and the threat of civil war. While Nigeria is its most powerful member, calling upon its fellow states to prevent Boko Haram from having safe havens or locales to coordinate with AQIM would be beneficial to government efforts. The United States pledged its support in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombings as well, an offer the government is sure to take up gladly.

Further, it should be noted that Boko Haram’s violence isn’t confined to the government or Christian targets. Only today a mosque in Maiduguri was bombed, leading to several deaths and injuries in the ensuing stampede; the government has blamed Boko Haram for the blast. Boko Haram’s violence against all Nigerians is an exploitable advantage in ending their campaign. The President should quickly call upon representatives from the Muslim and Christian communities to join him in Abuja for a frank dialogue in an effort to ease tensions. Meanwhile, an assurance that the rule of law applies to both sects would be well-received by international watchers of the situation, with a government pledge to act in the interest of Christians and Muslims that come under attack. The quicker the government responds with something other than bullets to show that it’s taking the situation seriously, the less of a leg Boko Haram will have to stand on in pursuing its goals.

December 7, 2011

Sey-what? China’s first permanent base may wind up in the Seychelles

I am the first to admit that I’m a novice when it comes to naval matters. A n00b as it were. Since I first wrote my piece predicting where I think China’s first permanent overseas base would be, I’ve met an insane number of actual naval experts, including Thomas Webb at Petty Tyranny, and Surface Sailor. Listening to them has made me rethink my conclusions in that piece for sure, but a bit of news that has come to my attention has really made me rethink my conclusions.

The Flag of Seychelles

"I cast Prismatic Spray"

The other day, Seychelles made the announcement that they had invited China to set up a military baseon the archipelago, to help combat piracy. If you’re thinking, “who?” don’t feel overly embarassed. Seychelles are known for two things: their lovely tourist industry, based around things like snorkeling and having the flag voted “Most Likely to be Found in a Pride Parade” by me. It’s a solid member of the African Union, despite being 665 miles off the coast of Madagascar and maintains a relative anonymity on the world scene.

Despite it’s status as geographical trivia, a Chinese presence would make total sense, with its location halfway between Africa and Asia. The gist of the offer itself can be found in a few different articles:

The declaration came as Liang Guanglie made the first-ever visit by a Chinese defence minister to the Indian Ocean island state.

‘We have invited the Chinese government to set up a military presence on Mahe to fight the pirate attacks that the Seychelles face on a regular basis,’ Adam said.

‘For the time being China is studying this possibility because she has economic interests in the region and Beijing is also involved in the fight against piracy,’ he explained.

General Liang, who arrived in Victoria on Thursday with a 40-strong delegation, had been invited in October by Seychelles President James Michel, when he was on a visit to China.

‘Together, we need to increase our surveillance capacity in the Indian Ocean… as Seychelles has a strategic position between Asia and Africa,’ Michel said in statement, adding that China had given its army two light aircraft.

The two countries signed a military cooperation agreement in 2004 that has enabled some 50 Seychelles soldiers to be trained in China.

They renewed their agreement on Friday, with China to provide further training and equipment.

So there’s that. I have to admit that Seychelles completely slipped my mind as being a possibility, though it would seem that the Indian Military Review magazine called it last year, but the islands readily meet the criteria I laid out. They are in a strategic location, due to the sea trade routes that China so dearly wants to protect. There are no counter-interests that would prevent China from moving forward with a base like in Pakistan. Unlike the Horn of Africa, Seychelles itself is a relatively secure location to dock and refuel, while also having the advantage of being much closer to China. And the area is itself sovereign and not under dispute, unlike the Spratly Islands.

This completely negates my theory that we’d see China construct its first permanent base on the Horn, but technically, I suppose this still counts as East Africa? In any event, China has yet to actually accept the offer, which I’m sure would come with a much larger bit of press interest. I’m looking forward to seeing three things moving forward: what reaction this draws from India, if any; the US reaction to sharing such a small space, since we currently maintain a drone base on Seychelles for use in surveillance missions; and the speed at which China would move forward, if it accepts the offer.

November 28, 2011

Elections and Civilian Protection: Voting in the DRC and its aftermath

I have another post up at UN Dispatch. This time, on the elections in the DR Congo. Feel free to read here.

In my initial draft, I had a bit more of a focus on the sanctions that the UNSC currently has in place on the DR Congo, which are due to expire at the end of the month. That got nixed in the editorial process to focus solely on the elections, which makes sense. But I’m including the cut paragraphs here, as I a) still rather like them, and b) think it’s important to remember that these sanctions exist and are in place for a reason.

As mentioned earlier, the UN Security Council has a close eye on the outcome of the elections. The UNSC has had a multitude of sanctions in place on the DRC since 2003, when it imposed an arms embargo on the state. Resolution 1493’s initial arms embargo has subsequently been strengthened and supplemented with accompanying travel and financial freezes on those spreading violence throughout the Congo, as well as modified to only affect non-governmental entities and individuals operating in the eastern areas of the DRC. These measures have been renewed every year since their implementation, with the expiration for 2010’s re-upping due to expire on November 30, 2011.

It is more than likely that the provisions of the Security Council’s sanctions will be upheld before the week expires. The next few days after the election concludes, including the announcement of the results, are crucial in determining whether an explosion of violence is imminent. The odds are higher than many are comfortable with that the likely top two vote-getters, incumbent Joseph Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tsvangrai, will claim fraud in the event of a loss. In such an instance, the absolute last thing that the Democratic Republic of the Congo needs is a new influx of small-arms. Arms dealers work with enough impunity already within Congo’s borders, despite the best efforts of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force, the largest in the world. The arms embargo and other provisions must remain in place for at least another six months, until the effects of this election are truly known.

Despite the wishes of many international observers and advocates of democracy, elections are not the hard and fast endpoint of violence within states that have had a history of conflict. Armed resistance groups are no less of a threat in the aftermath of an election, but have the potential to thrive in the chaos of a contested result.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to violence in the DRC, though.

October 18, 2011

Bazooka v. Fly: Why I’m glad the US didn’t launch a cyberattack on Libya

In a story that came out yesterday that made my inner nerd very gleeful, but my outer IR type extremely wary, the New York Times broke that the US was considering using cyberwarfare against Libya during the outset of NATO’s intervention campaign. To get a sense for just what that would entail:

Just before the American-led strikes against Libya in March, the Obama administration intensely debated whether to open the mission with a new kind of warfare: a cyberoffensive to disrupt and even disable the Qaddafi government’s air-defense system, which threatened allied warplanes.

While the exact techniques under consideration remain classified, the goal would have been to break through the firewalls of the Libyan government’s computer networks to sever military communications links and prevent the early-warning radars from gathering information and relaying it to missile batteries aiming at NATO warplanes.

I dare you to try to reread that and not have your mind go to a dark room filled with faces inaccurately-lit in green and blue, pounding away at their keyboards, attempting to exploit the weaknesses of the Qadaffi regime’s command and control systems. I’ll wait. I can already see the Hollywood pitch for the revised version of history where our brave cyberwarriors actually were the ones to take down the dreaded dictator. Daft Punk would provide the soundtrack. While the thought of using this advanced technological capability in an actual military operation is intriguing and would make for a wicked movie, there are a number of reasons why going through with such an action would have been a Very Bad Idea.

First and foremost, giving the United States’ cyber-capabilities a test spin against the Libyan Armed Forces would have been a breathtaking waste of a U.S. trump card for future conflicts. While the Libyan air defenses had the potential to be a thorn in the side of the NATO warplanes, there was precisely zero need to use capabilities that are officially still under-wraps against the Jamahiriya. Our bombers easily sought out and destroyed ground-to-air missile sites within the first few weeks of NATO sorties, rendering the overkill that a cyberattack would have been in bright flashing explosions. If and when digital attacks become fully necessary for the achievement of a critical mission, the United States will deploy such methods, and in doing so command not only the tactical advantage that launching such an attack would bring, but would benefit from the psychological factor inherit in utilizing new technologies in unexpected ways. The raid that took out Osama bin Laden was notable not just for the actually death of the terrorist mastermind, but the unveiling of the previously secret stealth helicopter that the United States now possesses, which in turn led to a race by other capable nations to begin researching similar technology. It was a mission packed with significance, where the operational capability provided by the technology matched the goal at hand.

Which brings us to the second reason that launching such as strike as US officials also rightfully concluded, having the United States launch the first public salvo in the war for the digital domain would set an irreversible precedent. Much like the United States’ officially non-existent drones campaign against Pakistan, the fact that states are currently utilizing various hacking methods against one another is an unspoken but quietly acknowledged axiom in this day and age. So far, the use of state-to-state digital attacks have been through proxies or focused on enhancing espionage capabilities; no attack has yet to be made on the level that would allow it to be dubbed ‘warfare’, in my opinion including attacks against command controls of critical infrastructure or operating military systems. Were the US to be the first to commit such an attack, it would open a whole new can of worms in terms of conflict, with other states that have similar capacities to inflict cyberstrikes, though not of the same magnitude as the US while still possessing the potential to wreak havoc, to readily seize the opportunity to openly incorporate similar cyber-initiatives into their own tactical planning. To wit: we would see a massive surge of data skirmishes between us and China, among others, and veritable digital onslaughts by more capable states against lesser neighbors or challengers across the globe. Think the darkest days of realist theory played out over ethernet cables.

Finally, the legal implications of the US military being the wielder of cyber-force against Libya are stunning. President Obama had enough trouble making the case that the Operation: Unified Protector did not fall under the War Powers Act of 1973 and didn’t require Congressional approval, a point that even the top lawyers at Defense and Justice had a difficult time acquiescing to. On a sidebar, I think that the United Nations Participation Act gave all the coverage needed after the passage of UNSC Resolution 1973, but I digress. Back on point, the use of cyber-capabilities would have muddied the water even further; while the War Powers act doesn’t define “hostilities”, it also was drafted before it was ever assumed that cyberoffensives would ever be possible. Since an attack using computers wouldn’t be physical in nature, it’s unsure whether launching a cyberattack would start the clock on Congressional notification, or require any notification at all, and now to start that debate surrounding Libya would be inopportune at best.

In any case, the Administration made the right call on this one. There will come a day where the United States faces an enemy that requires bringing out the big (digital) guns, but taking down Libya was certainly not it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go re-watch The Matrix.

October 14, 2011

In Great Lakes deployment, US should look to support UN

The Twittersphere is all abuzz this afternoon as word broke that the Obama Administration has informed Congress that it is sending roughly 100 U.S. troops to the Great Lakes region to help end the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army. In a letter to the Speaker of the House and President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, President Obama laid out the mission of these forces:

In furtherance of the Congress’s stated policy, I have authorized a small number of combat-equipped U.S. forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield. I believe that deploying these U.S. Armed Forces furthers U.S. national security interests and foreign policy and will be a significant contribution toward counter-LRA efforts in central Africa.

On October 12, the initial team of U.S. military personnel with appropriate combat equipment deployed to Uganda. During the next month, additional forces will deploy, including a second combat-equipped team and associated headquarters, communications, and logistics personnel. The total number of U.S. military personnel deploying for this mission is approximately 100. These forces will act as advisors to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA. Our forces will provide information, advice, and assistance to select partner nation forces. Subject to the approval of each respective host nation, elements of these U.S. forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The support provided by U.S. forces will enhance regional efforts against the LRA. However, although the U.S. forces are combat-equipped, they will only be providing information, advice, and assistance to partner nation forces, and they will not themselves engage LRA forces unless necessary for self-defense. All appropriate precautions have been taken to ensure the safety of U.S. military personnel during their deployment.

The bloggers of the world quickly sprung into action, providing the curious masses, many of whom had no idea why anything with “Lord” in it could be such a bad thing, with a year’s worth of reading on the background of the LRA, and the history of calls for intervention in the region to help take it down and the opposing arguments. While the initial confusion over the move has calmed down, as sending off military advisors in this fashion is relatively common, there is still no consensus on how effective these troops will be in lessening the threat of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA most certainly qualifies as the worst of the armed groups that plague the African continent, with their atrocities putting the Janjaweed and FDLR to shame in sheer brazenness. Their leader Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court over his actions in Uganda, with Kony managing to evade arrest for decades now.

What has me curious, though, is determining if and how these U.S. advisors will interact with the UN peacekeeping missions currently on the ground. Of the four states listed in the President’s letter, two of them, the DRC and South Sudan, have United Nations blue helmets deployed inside their borders. The United Nations Mission to South Sudan was approved in July of this year, to aid in supporting the development of the soon-to-be newest member of the UN help tamp down on the fighting in the border region between the newly separated states of Sudan and South Sudan. The LRA has been taken its rape and pillage tour through the area for years, leading the Security Council to include language about the force in the authorizing resolution, S/RES/1996, particularly in Operative Clause 15:

15. Calls upon UNMISS to coordinate with the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and participate in regional coordination and information mechanisms to improve protection of civilians and support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts in light of the attacks by the LRA in the Republic of South Sudan and requests the Secretary General to include in his UNMISS trimesterly reports a summary of cooperation and information sharing between UNMISS, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), and regional and international partners in addressing the LRA threats;

The  peacekeeping mission operative in the DRC, MONUSCO, which took over for MONUC in June of this year is the largest peacekeeping force that the UN has ever put together. Helping keep the peace in the largest country in Africa has proved to be a substantial challenge in the years after the Great African War, enough so that over 20,000 blue helmets have been authorized to take part in the most recent mission. Despite the size of the mission, the size of the state, twice that of France, has proved to be much more advantageous to Joseph Kony’s crew, granting them the ability to slip in and out of the country without much to-do, allowing them to continue to spread terror through the entirety of the region.

Both missions are enacted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and call for the use of any means necessary to enact their mandates, the phrase that authorizes the use of force. The fact that both mandates specifically call out the LRA as a threat to international peace and security gives a strong indication of just how seriously the UN and US take the LRA, despite being only approximately 250 individuals in strength.

So with the enormity of the combined missions, which are called upon to coordinate between themselves when it comes to the LRA in SC/Res/1925, the infusion of 100 US advisors could be crucial. Who these advisors will be answering to and how precisely they’ll serve the region isn’t exactly clear from this letter. It’s obvious that they won’t be serving under anyone but a U.S. military officer, but I wonder what mechanisms they’ll have in place to determine which of the several host governments they’ll be offering their expertise to will take precedence. The U.S. has, for the record sent forces to both missions: precisely one military advisor to take MONUSCO and 4 police officers to UNMISS.

The United Nations isn’t mentioned anywhere in the President’s letter, so it doesn’t seem to have been on the mind of whomever in the White House drafted it. It should be on their mind, though. The UNMISS and MONUSCO both have large amounts of forces dedicated to keeping the peace and protecting civilians, particularly against the LRA, and the addition of U.S. logistical help would be a boon to the strapped missions. Also, as Laura Seay points out, the LRA operates in some of the least-governed areas of the world’s weakest states. To have the UN’s support in such places in someways would be better than having that of the host-governments.

The Obama Administration has made working multilaterally one of the lynchpins of their foreign policy, particularly through international institutions, and now would be an ideal time to continue that trend. I’m not advocating integrating these U.S. troops into the missions, but rather sharing information and capabilities when possible. The UNSC approval granted to the missions would also provide a greater amount of legitimacy to the U.S. deployment. It’s clear that the U.S. has arranged for this beforehand with the involved local governments, but coordinating with the UN would bolster the effectiveness of the UN missions and serve as a way to share information and ability with the four states in question. Ignoring the UN’s presence in the region at best would make the overall mission more difficult, at worst add to confusion at an unfortunate time.