Organized crime, insurgencies and international politics. ISIL is the Joker…

Here below you’ll find a quotation taken form a recent interview given by President Obama. It well illustrates the nexus between organized crime and insurgencies. Obama refers to the case of the ISIL quoting “The Dark Knight“. I’ll use it in my security courses…

“Advisers recall that Obama would cite a pivotal moment in The Dark Knight, the 2008 Batman movie, to help explain not only how he understood the role of isis, but how he understood the larger ecosystem in which it grew. “There’s a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting,” the president would say. “These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. isil is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That’s why we have to fight it.”

Joker-dark-knight-rises

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 80: COP 21

The post-Cold War era has been deeply characterized by multidimensional and non-military threats: from terrorism to climate change. Last week we looked at the war against ISIL, therefore this week our Top-5 is mainly focused on the UN climate change conference in Paris – COP 21.

Here you’ll find a (dramatic) list to the most polluted cities in the world. Dehli is at the top. According to The Guardian, 1.6 million Chinese are killed by breathing bad air every year.

Der Spiegel International offers an insightful comment on “the most important event of the year”. Simply in Paris “the global community will be deciding on the fate of our planet, our future and the basis of life for all of humanity”. 

If you are more interested in the negotiations, here you’ll find some useful elements that you need to know to better assess the UN conference. In summary, climate change is a “collective action problem“.

Words, rhetoric and narratives and crucial in international relations. Here you’ll find the “best metaphors” used during the Paris climate talks (Is the planet really a patient??).

Finally, the speech by President Obama helps in finding a connection between climate change to the fight against ISIL. In other words, the conference in Paris is an “act of defiance” against the terrorists who attacked the city just weeks ago. (Probably is true but we are still waiting for a better strategy against ISIL…)

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 76

With or Without you? This week we start our Top5 by quoting Bono Vox thanks to the article by Ulrich Kühn on the controversial relationship between NATO and Germany.

From Germany to Italy: The U.S. State Department has approved a longstanding request from Italy to arm its two MQ-9 Reaper drones with Hellfire missiles, laser-guided bombs and other munitions. It is with noticing that Italy would be only the second country to be approved to buy armed drones after Britain, which has been using them since 2007
Additional details here

We have read a lot of criticism towards the Obama’s foreign policy in recent weeks. Here you’ll find a different (and more optimistic) point of view.

And here you find a (rare) positive analysis of the EU (and its the accomplishments). According to Dan Drezner: the European Union is known for two signal accomplishments: ending any chance of another Franco-German war, and bringing Eastern Europe in from the cold […] The successful integration of Eastern Europe was a political and security necessity for the European Union after 1989. And anyone who tells you differently does not understand why the European Union is important.

Finally,  much more controversial issue: craft brewers, pale ale and IPAs.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 71

Lots of meetings in the past few days. In sparse order, Obama and Xi, Obama and Putin, Obama and the Pope. Many things to discuss, from improving bilateral relations to devising a strategy for Syria. Although the most important outcomes are often hard to see, something visible emerged.

US-China relations these days have been often spoiled by cyber attacks in the US that allegedly came from China territory. This is why the deal between China and the US reached last week is important. Wait and see, here for the Italian readers some reasons to be sceptical in a brief published by the Italian think tank ISPI last week to which Venus in Arms contributed.

The other hot front is clearly Syria. Putin and Obama might not have looked best friends in recent years, but they might share some interests (if not the solutions) in the region.

In the meanwhile, the Middle East remains the same old powder keg. The US plays multiple roles in the region, one of those being provider of weapons.

The other guy on the table, Vladimir Putin, has been always very active in the international arena. This New Yorker’s piece discusses whether Russian President can achieve his multiple objectives by acting in Syria.  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/putin-returns-to-the-u-n

In a recent talk, former FED chief Ben Bernanke entered into controversy over the role of military service in preparing for a professional private sector career. An interesting contribution on the Atlantic discusses the theme.

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Il Dilemma della sicurezza europea: Est e/o Sud?

Una grande canzone pop trash degli anni 90 aveva come ritornello i quattro punti cardinali. Da quello che leggiamo e vediamo rispetto al contesto della sicurezza europea, il dibattito pare sempre più orientato attorno a  dilemma che si lega a due direzioni possibili della bussola: l’Est e il Sud. Da dove proviene la “minaccia principale” per i paesi europei?

La prima possibile riposta riguarda il  “fronte orientale“, caratterizzato dall’esplosione della crisi Ucraina, dalla politica estera russa, dalla guerra “ibrida”, attorno alla quale tanto si è discusso. I paesi dell’Europa orientale, a partire dalla Polonia e dagli stati Baltici, sono naturalmente iper-preoccupati delle conseguenze legate al coinvolgimento militare Russo nel conflitto ucraino e ai possibili cambiamenti geopolitici nell’area. Stati Uniti, NATO ed alleati hanno cercato di rassicurarli, attraverso il  dispiegamento di forze e la creazione di nuovi strumenti ad hoc come la NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP). Il summit in Galles aveva proprio la RAP come principale novità ed il fulcro della riflessione strategica ruotava attorno alla crisi Ucraina e al nuovamente complesso rapporto con la Russia.

Tre brevi considerazioni vanno fatte in merito al “fronte orientale” come focus prioritario dell’Alleanza Atlantica e dei paesi europei in generale.

1) Nonostante nel passato l’attenzione generale si sia concentrata sul crisis management e sulle missioni in aree di crisi, soprattutto nel contesto post 11-Settembre, la difesa collettiva rappresenta sempre il core business della NATO. Un aspetto che i membri “orientali” dell’Alleanza non fanno che ricordare.

2) A fronte di scenari complessi, minacce asimmetriche, conflitti tra gruppi armati irregolari, terrorismo, stati fragili o falliti, è in effetti “più facile” capire lo scenario ucraino dal punto di vista prettamente militare e strategico. In altre parole, per le élite politiche e militari atlantiche la difesa territoriale rappresenta un concetto più agile da maneggiare, meno difficile da interpretare (sappiamo almeno chi è l’avversario, conosciamo abbastanza le sue caratteristiche e risorse, etc.). Dopo decenni di Guerra Fredda le forze armate europee si sono dovute adattare e trasformare per affrontare contesti completamente nuovi. Un ritorno al passato, pur con le notevoli ed evidenti differenze, potrebbe anche inconsciamente essere accettato più facilmente. Anche dal punto di vista del weapons procurement, dopo anni nei quali molti si chiedevano il perché dover continuare ad acquistare mezzi da Guerra Fredda per missioni contro guerriglieri e gruppi criminali, adesso è certamente più semplice giustificare tale scelta.

3) Non tutti i paesi europei la pensano allo stesso modo nei confronti della Russia. Gli interessi economici in gioco sono enormi e la cautela si impone d’obbligo per quelle nazioni che hanno sviluppato un’ampia rete di rapporti commerciali con Mosca, a partire dal tema della dipendenza energetica. L’Italia lo sa bene.

In aggiunta a queste riflessioni generali, ora che Putin sembra orientare l’attenzione verso la Siria, dobbiamo domandarci se cambierà davvero qualcosa rispetto alla centralità del “fronte orientale” per la NATO in primis ed anche per l’Europa in generale? Che ruolo può avere in tutto ciò l’UE, che sta ripensando lo propria strategia globale? Quale direzione diplomatica prenderà l’amministrazione Obama? Che cosa emergerà dal prossimo summit dell’Alleanza Atlantica? Che cosa diranno i paesi europei che affacciano sul Mediterraneo?

Per rispondere occorre tenere presente la crescente importanza del “fronte sud” per la sicurezza europea ed atlantica. Il dramma dei rifugiati è solo l’ultima manifestazione evidente del caos e dell’instabilità nella regione. Dalla Libia alla Siria, passando per Iraq e Sahel, la multi-dimensionalità della minaccia (che lega terrorismo a network criminali, passando per l’ISIL) appare sempre più incombente.

Se Polonia e paesi Baltici sono preoccupati per la politica di Mosca [Venus in Arms rifugge la scontata e banale figura retorica dell’Orso Russo, più adatta ad altri ambiti..], Madrid, Roma e Atene non possono che far sentire la propria voce di “frontiera” di fronte dei mutamenti al di là del Mediterraneo. Gli stati europei hanno fatto pochissimo sul piano dell’aiuto allo sviluppo e hanno commesso errori strategici gravissimi accanto all’alleato amerciano negli ultimi tre lustri. Ogni soluzione d’emergenza adesso non può che dimostrarsi fallace, dall’immigrazione all’ISIL.

Per questo occorre capire in che modo il “fronte sud” possa nuovamente acquistare un peso cruciale nella riflessione strategica complessiva in ambito NATO ed europeo.

Che cosa farà l’Italia, al di là degli sforzi volti a una migliore redistribuzione del numero di profughi tra i paesi europei? Una domanda alla quale non possiamo ancora dare una riposta chiara. Di sicuro sarebbe importante evitare il ruolo del biondino  nel sopra citato duo: muoversi e affannarsi per avere visibilità senza svolgere in fondo alcun compito di rilievo.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 55 “Hersh on the bin Laden raid”

A special Top5, dedicated to the hot debate that followed legendary investigative journalist Seymour Myron Hersh’s long article on the London Review of Books, arguing that the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden did not go as told by the White House, which was responsible of cover-ups first on how bin Laden’s location was uncovered and then on the operation and its follow-up (starting from the burial).

To reconstruct the story, this is President Obama’s video announcing the death of America’s most hunted terrorist.

Scepticism on the operation going according to the official narrative is not a new thing. Mark Bowden, the journalist who reported about the famous “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia, explored more in-depth the myths surrounding the Abbottabad operation already in 2012.

Hersh argues that Bowden’s account is partial (and sometimes wrong). But the very argument of contention has now become his own reconstruction. Foreign Policy’s Sean Naylor put together the claims coming from different parts of the Administration, which label Hersh’s reconstruction as “patently false”.

Fellow journalists also criticized Hersh. Here you can find a short selection, with different political flavours: on Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and Vox. Of course, you can form your own opinion. Hersh reported on the My Lai massacre in a Pulitzer winning – and mythical – article and then went on becoming one of the most respected American journalists covering military matters. Most recently, he underwent deep critiques for his account of chemical weapons use in Syria.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 45

While fighting continues in Libya, Syria, and Iraq (and elsewhere), much attention has been devoted to leaders and leadership this week.

Russia possibly tops the list. Putin’s assertiveness abroad and at home is the hot topic, also following the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Possibly, you already read everything about it in the past few days. So we suggest you also watch the 3rd season of TV series House of Cards and look if you agree with how Russia is portrayed there.

President Obama is building is legacy. Still a lot of clouds linger over his presidency with reference to foreign policy, possibly not to break up until he’s long away from office. One message is trying to send, anyway, is “Be Not Afraid” (from March issue of The Atlantic).

Third, Benjamin Netanyahu went to Congress for a highly controversial speech. Debate rages on pretty much everything concerning the Israeli leader. This is his speech, no comments attached.

Power politics has been long back in Asia. So military analysts have been starting to look at military planning, with Japan and China being the most scrutinized subjects. Navies, in particular, enjoyed a great deal of attention (Venus featured a piece on the theme a while ago), and this how Japan might be facing China’s growing military prowess.

Last, a very different piece on music, culture and Malcolm X. Addressed issue, among else: is the African American leader shot in 1965 a hero for Muslim radicals in Europe?

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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 29

The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. That emerges quite clearly from a series of reports in the past few weeks that have been uncovering the nature of the opposition to IS influence in Iraq. Besides nominal allies in the region allegedly buying “IS oil”, the Shi’a Badr militias, once a staunch enemy, are now fighting against IS in Northern Iraq. No “formal” alliance in sight, but a lot of questions on who sides with whom.

In the meanwhile, President Obama is not the only one struggling with polls. Gordon Lubold reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s rating among national security workers dropped to 26 %, according to a survey commissioned by DefenseOne.

Remaining in the US, former Undersecretary of Defense  William Lind, now leading Finmeccanica North America and DRS Technologies, argues that the “market for defense systems” is changing rapidly, and at the global level, and thus the Pentagon should adapt to the new realities: More attention to companies such as Google and Apple and less to the traditional military-industrial complex.

Asia-Pacific has been set to become the most relevant region of action for the foreign policy of quite a few US Administration by now, before chaos in the Middle East brought the focus back. Nonetheless, President Obama is reportedly re-pivoting to Asia. Carnegie Endownent’s Douglas Paal responds to key questions on how to interpret, and what to expect from, this (re) positioning.

Remaining in Asia, India is sometimes overlooked as attention mostly focuses on the Pacific.  And still, India has been long searching for international cooperation in defense matters. Russia has been once a key partner, the US has signed a military pact, and most recently Israel has been developing important ties in key sectors such as missiles and UAVs among others.

 

 

 

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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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