Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 54

Waiting for the UK elections, here you’ll find a detailed analysis of coalitions, candidates, and programmes. We are especially interested in the future of the UK defense, after years of cuts and deployment.

Going to Baltimore. The Nation provides an interesting perspectives on the recent riots, especially if you were a fan of “The Wire“.

“Why Islamist insurgents are so difficult to coerce” is the title of an excellent article by The Monkey Cage. The post (which refers to a recent paper published by APSR, here gated) suggests that selective counterinsurgency tactics are unlikely to succeed in hurting groups like the Islamic State or to deter their continued assaults. A very useful guide to rethink to counterinsurgency.

Can humanitarian uses of new digital technologies always be expected to have benevolent consequences? Here you’ll find the answer given by KL Jacobsen for Political Violence @ a Glance. A critical reflection on this issue is needed.

Finally, we suggest to come to the EUI  (Florence) for The State of the Union 2015. A good occasion to discuss about the future of the EU. See you there (and also in Sevilla for the semifinal of the Europa League)

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 49

Technology and culture this week.

Technology: from large to small, in a conservative fashion. While the famous reform of article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is in the air, Japan commissions the largest ship since WWII (the JS Izumo). It looks very much as an aircraft carrier, but it formally only carries helicopters, of course.

Hunting submarines becomes increasingly important when the value of surface ships increases. Patrolling comes thorugh different tools, most recently aerial drones. This is the Navy’s most recent one, and looks like a duck.

Drones are becoming more capable and widespread. Next steps of innovation also come through so-called bio-mimickry, the imitation of biological systems. Please meet the “fish drone called Wanda”.

Culture and conflict: The Vietnam War is often heralded as a shifting point in the relation between media and conflict. The Atlantic features a photo essay in three parts about the war: take a look at the first part on the years 1962-1967.

ISIS is increasingly present in North Africa. The Guardian reports that the town of Tataouine is becoming an ISIS base. The village inspired George Lucas for Star Wars (Tatooine it is the home planet of Luke Skywalker), which was partly filmed in Tunisia.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 47

Changing ideas is a sign of intelligence, a necessary element of academic research. It is also a key for organizational adaptation and learning. It’s hard, though, and also for individuals, to admit they’re wrong.  That’s why the list of past “wrongs” by Steven Walt, a dean of American IR scholars, is a must read.

Photos often describe conflict better than many words. The Atlantic features a series of impressive photos of Reuters’ photo reporters in Northern Iraq, where battle is raging.

Sticking with ISIS (is there anything else, nowadays?), DefenceOne presents the case for drones: air strikes are doing the job in Iraq and Syria.

Well, perhaps something else matters. Where is Vladimir Putin? BBC responds with humor (we know now he is still among us..)

Finally, elections in Israel.  Follow the live blog of the Jerusalem Post. As they say, “Israel has no foreign policy, just domestic politics”.

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L’Italia e la crisi in Libia. Un grave errore da evitare

Nelle ultime settimane l’attenzione mediatica sulla crisi libica è aumentata, soprattutto in seguito al brutale omicidio dei copti egiziani rivendicato e propagandato dalle milizie allineate all’ISIS. L’effettiva consistenza delle forze del sedicente “califfato” in Libia è ancora un dato controverso, ma la preoccupazione per la presenza di questi gruppi a poche migliaia di chilometri dall’Italia è certamente giustificata.

La possibile minaccia dell’ISIS ha così alimentato il dibattito relativo al “che fare” per risolvere la guerra civile in Libia, scatenatasi nel contesto di instabilità successivo all’intervento militare del 2011. Gli argomenti al centro della discussione attuale ruotano sugli errori del passato o sul “senso di emergenza” dovuta alla duplice minaccia, l’avanzata dell’ISIS e la temuta “invasione” di un nuovo flusso migratorio verso l’Italia, tema suscettibile a continue strumentalizzazioni politiche (ne abbiamo parlato in dettaglio un precedente post). Ma, al di là di alcune dichiarazioni isolate,  che hanno anche paventato un intervento militare italiano, appare assente una riflessione adeguata sulle possibili soluzioni del cuore della crisi, ovvero la guerra civile che si è scatenata tra le forze legate al governo di Tobruk (riconosciuto internazionalmente e ampiamente sostenuto dall’Egitto) e la coalizione Libya Dawn , composta da forze islamiste e milizie (come quelle di Misurata), che comandano tuttora a Tripoli.

Osservando la posizione del governo italiano (variegata a dir la verità) sembra che Roma, giustamente prudente rispetto all’idea di un nuovo complicatissimo intervento militare, propenda per un rafforzamento del legame con gli “uomini forti” di Tobruk e del Cairo. Una posizione condivisa dalla Francia e da quei paesi arabi che mirano alla sconfitta totale dei Fratelli Musulmani.

Ma schierarsi con Tobruk sarebbe un grave errore da parte dell’Italia.

In un recente articolo uscito per Foreign Policy, Mattia Toaldo e Jason Pack illustrano chiaramente come la soluzione diplomatica del conflitto sia la via prioritaria da seguire, evitando la inefficace e controproducente opzione di schierarsi con una parte in confitto. Il senso di urgenza alimentato dalla crescente minaccia dell’ISIS, come terzo attore in gioco, rischia di danneggiare gli sforzi diplomatici, che richiedono tempo.

Secondo gli autori: “Western governments should not view the Libyan crisis solely in the context of counter-terrorism and energy policy. To do so would be to address a symptom of the crisis rather than its cause. The rise of Islamic State-aligned militias in Libya is a result of the civil war, so mediating an end to it should be the priority.”

La proxy war combattuta da vari stati della regione in Libia non fa che peggiorare le cose. Proprio per questo, interrompere il flusso di denaro che è tuttora alimentato da attori esterni sarebbe cruciale: “Alternative financial institutions created by the two rival governments should be denied the recognition that would allow them to enter into contracts with international firms”.

Per prevenire e constare la minaccia dell’ISIS occorre in primis porre fine alla guerra civile. “The disintegration of the Libyan state is already allowing for the creation of IS enclaves on the Mediterranean. Libya’s smuggled oil wealth, caches of heavy weaponry, and pilfered bank accounts could give Islamic State a new lease on life just as it is losing ground in Iraq

Gli autori, giustamente, ritengono che l’unica soluzione al momento sia quella negoziale. Sarebbe opportuno che il governo italiano segua con forza e convinzione questa strada. Alcuni membri del governo e della maggioranza in Commissione Esteri sembrano aver capito che schierarsi con Tobruk ed Egitto è un grave errore. Intelligence e diplomazia sono gli asset principali che Roma deve impiegare nel contesto multilaterale. Ma proprio in questo ambito le costanti difficoltà nel coinvolgere alleati ed Unione Europea ad uno sforzo maggiore (e congiunto) nel gestire il fenomeno migratorio non appaiono certo di buon auspicio.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 43

Conflict in Libya rages, ISIL is apparantly gaining ground, the Egyptian Air Force bombed Derna, Benghazi and Sirte. Making sense of what happens is tough, and as Libya seems to descend into chaos, The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza wonders if the country is turning into Iraq.

Debate on what to do in Libya also rages. While countries debate what to do, it is also important to look back at what they did in the very recent past. Glenn Greeenwald on The Intercept looks with the usually critical eye at the failures of the intervention in Libya of 2011.

In the meanwhile, the cease-fire is hardly holding in Ukraine.  The BBC reports “live” on the events and also provides useful maps. If anything, the crisis in Eastern Europe brought “old” geopolitics back.

With a eye on the risks of escalating the conflict and at the successes of the past, Fred Kaplan on Slate ponders how to defeat Putin. It does not require going to war, but rather thinking about a recasted version of containment.

Venus in Arms is attentive to how war is portrayed in the arts. Last week we featured a post focusing  on Clint Eastwood’s war movies. This is an interview with American Sniper’s screenwriter on what it means to write movies about war (and other stuff).

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 41

While ISIS keeps killing hostages, admits the loss of the Syrian city of Kobani, and attacks Kirkuk, US President Barack Obama tries to place the threat posed by the Islamist group in context. It’s one of the many themes addressed in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

This comes in a period of thorough rethinking of American strategy in the past decade and beyond. Robert Grenier on The Atlantic tells his role in trying to prevent the US intervention in Afghanistan by convincing the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Landen.

In the meanwhile, the US Administration is also rethinking about the state of its nuclear arsenal. Perhaps trying to re-pivot to Asia after events kept the attention on the Middle East, Obama wants to spend hundreds of million dollars  in renovating the nuclear triad, raising several critiques.

Australian Lowy Institute for International Policy features an interesting debate on how to deal with terrorism. Anthony Bubalo’s piece deals with the classic  dilemmas  of democracy balancing the fight on terror and civil liberties.

Finally, a lot of debates on military matters have been raised by recently released movies, starting with American Sniper. Walter Isaacson, well known for his biography of Steve Jobs, tells a part of Alan Turing’s story, celebrated by Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 40

Tuesday 27 January is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and thus also the end of the deadliest act of mass murder in a single location in human history“. This is the way through which The Guardian remembers the anniversary, which we should never forget.

The Tripoli branch of Islamic State (Isis) has claimed responsibility for an attack against a luxury hotel where several foreigners have been killed. For a detailed analysis on the Islamist forces in Libya see this report by Jon Mitchell. 

The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program (TTCSP) at the University of Pennsylvania released its seventh annual 2013 Global Go To Think Tanks Report. Good news for Brookings, still at the top.

Very good news from Kobane. After several months of intense fighting the Kurds (with the help of US air strikes) have liberated the city from the siege posed by ISIS militants.

Finally, check this fantastic presentation of the next ISA panel on IR and Game of Thrones. ViA will attend the panel. So, don’t’ worry, we all provide a detailed report!

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 34

Just another massive financial crisis in Russia? According to The Economist: “The Russian currency crisis many feared is now a reality and the mood in Moscow close to panic. Russians are right to worry: they are heading for a lethal combination of deep recession and runaway inflation”. Yesterday in Moscow shops people converted roubles into goods. Here you can see how the Ruble Crisis looked like in the 90s.

Moving to Iraq, The New York Times provides a detailed report on the “Desert War on ISIS”. While in the initial weeks of the air campaign three out of every four missions still return with their bombs for lack of approved targets, in recent days the Iraqis “have been advancing, forcing ISIS to fight more in the open”.

Unredacted focuses on the Kennedy and Johnson Administration’s consideration of preventive military action to prevent or to delay China from acquiring a nuclear capability. Recently the National Security Archive published an Electronic Briefing Book of documents on the United States and the Chinese nuclear weapons program during the early 1960s.

The SIPRI just published the Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies fact sheet. Despite three consecutive years of decreasing sales for the Top 100, total revenues remain 45.5 per cent higher in real terms than for the Top 100 in 2002.

Finally, Venus in Arms honors again Nick Hornby and his idol, Thierry Henry, who has just announced his retirement from football. He has been really a fantastic player (we also appreciate the fact that his Italian experience was a failure because…ehm, at that time we did not support you Thierry…)


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 25

With strikes against the Islamic State largely brought by the air, the debate on air power and its tools warms up again. In recent years, nothing has been more controversial in several countries (from the US to Italy) than the F35/JSF program. This is an American Air Force General view of the plane’s almost “divine” capabilities.

This is while the White House is reckoning how air campaigns are far from being the perfect tools to face IS. In the National Interest, Paul Pillar explains how air strikes cannot address the multi-faceted nature of the Syrian conflict, and sometimes – by creating collateral damages – also result in         further resentment from the population.

Turkey has a big stake in the current conflict in Syria and Iraq as anyone. Still, as of today, is still perceived (at least by the Americans trying to use military bases in the country) as reluctant and ambiguous. Halil Karaveli argues that looking at domestic politics in Turkey, and their history of complex civil-military relations, can give a better grasp of such and attitude, as well as of potential scenarios ahead.

Done with stuff in the news, let’s focus on long term assessment of Obama’s Administration grand strategy. In the very longstanding tradition of “parallel lives”, The Amerian Interest features an article by Jakub Grygiel on how Roman Emperor Commodus’ attempts to stay away from external adventures (fighting against barbarians) to focus on domestic policy had tragic long term consequence for the Empire

An article on a meta-theme to conclude. The language of war, because of technological change, cultural and political transformation (and the inextricable links among these and other factors) is constantly mutating.  Sam Leith reflects on the changing lexicon and the media landscape  of war in this refreshing piece on the Financial Times.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 24

First of all, the “battle for Kobani“. Kurdish forces and Isis militants are fighting for the control of the Syrian border town of Kobani. According to the Turkish President Erdoğan the US air strikes are not the proper solution for the crisis. As reported by The Guardian, he said that Turkey wants to fight both Isis and the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). For sure, the presence of ‘passive’ massive military forces at the border (and the repression of domestic demonstration) while the Isis is trying to control Konani well illustrates the political approach of Ankara towards the war in Syria. Indeed, US appears as “frustrated” over Turkish inaction

Regarding war and political violence we suggest this insightful article by The National Interest: “What Our Primate Relatives Say About War”. Why war? Rousseau and Hobbes provide different perspectives that are here examined through chimpanzee and bonobos.

Here you’ll find recent updates on the Ebola outbreak while here the Pew Research illustrates some recent polls concerning the US confidence in the federal government to prevent a major crisis. So far, no evidence of widespread alarm.

The excellent Unredacted focuses on the new book by Peter Kornbluh and William M. LeoGrande “Back channel to Cuba”. The book investigates the relationship between  Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Cuba, providing also new views on Fidel Castro’s intervention in Angola in 1975.

Finally, after 25 years, Twin Peaks comes back! No additional comments are needed, just..damn good coffee!!


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