Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 79

From the Turkish border to Paris to the ground in Syria and Iraq. It is still too early to understand the consequences of the Turkish missile intercepting a Russian Su-24 allegedly flying in Turkish skies. But you can follow live the BBC updates. And start imagining what could happen next.

In the two weeks after the Paris attacks, there have been some attempts to dig deeper into its consequences. Rosa Brooks writes that we should learn to accept some uncomfortable truths. Including the recognition that there is probably no chance to achieve complete security from attacks.

Barry Posen argues that defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq is proving to be a very costly undertaking. And Western escalation might be actually what ISIS wants. Containment of the threat should be a more sustainable long term strategy.

Most analysts would agree, in any case, that better action against the ability of ISIS to extract resources would effectively weaken it. The Atlantic features an article on where ISIS money come from.

Finally, a bit off-topic. What is the role of scholarship in these hard times? Warontherocks contributes to the endless debate on the relationship between academia and defence decision-making.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 77

Hot topics abound, as usual. The causes of the Russian plane’s crash in Egypt last week have not yet been ascertained. But it seems that they give another reason for a dispute between the West and Russia. Media of the latter, says The Atlantic’s Brian Whitmore, even suggest a conspiracy masterminded by Western powers.

Time for presidential primaries’ debates. “Outsiders” are in the lead in the Republican field. We know something of Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas, but very little on Ben Carson’s. This FP article depicts the views of the retired surgeon’s foreign policy advisor.

The new President is likely to find a pretty confused situation (to say the least) in the Middle East. And American troops that have stepped up their commitment from training missions to direct engagement. This is one of the latest reports on anti-ISIS actions in Iraq and on the uneasy relations between US and Iraqi forces.

More on the background, but not necessarily less important. Micah Zenko makes the case for “Red Teams”. Having second opinions and fostering an organizational culture and set-up that accept dissent and promote skepticism can lead to overcome the worst cases of organizational myopia, and forcefully argues that US armed forces should do that in a new book. But, is it a cost-free strategy?

The brain drain is clearly not just an Italian problem. The US military is struggling to attract and then retain the best minds, not an easy thing when the bureaucratic constraints are cumbersome, note David Barno and Nora Bensahel.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 75

What’s Russia doing in Syria? This is frequent question these days. While a clear account of operations is not necessarily easy to find, the broad picture that emerges shows how Russian military capabilities are better than previously thought.

In the meanwhile, Iraqi Kurds understood that dealing with the world’s largest democracy requires a better understanding of the decision-making processes of the latter. That is why, Foreign Policy reports, the Kurdish Regional Government are increasingly recurring to K Street lobbying.

Two interesting pieces in the past week on the “intractable” conflict in the Middle East par excellance. Natan Sachs ponders over Israeli “anti-solutionism” in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, trying to explain why accepting (and prolonging) the status quo has its own rationale.

The New Yorker features an article on what would have happened had Rabin survived its assassination attempt. Counterfactuals are always tough to make, but the thought experiment allows, if nothing else, to remember a key moment in the history of the conflict.

Preparing for the Star Wars’ episode 7, a classic (2002) “neo-con” article on how the Empire was actually not that bad at all. Sure that IR interpretation of the saga will flourish in the next few months.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 71

This week we inevitably start with Russia in Syria. The Aviationist provides detailed analyses of the Russian air strikes. A lot of technical stuff, ma extremely useful to understand the current situation.

Concerning Syria, here an interactive map that shows the massive disaster caused by the civil war in recent years. No more lights from above.

From air strikes to something different: Landpower. According to War on the Rocks: [Landpower] remains a central component of compelling adversaries to relent to American power, as examples around the world suggest.

Dan Drezner addresses the “conspiracy theorists of 2016“. Here his open letter to who thinks the United States is in league with the Islamic State.

Finally. Soccer. Italian Serie A. Fiorentina at the top of the league. Venus is (really, really) really proud of that! No big ambitions (it is problematic to be an hegemonic actor without the proper means), but huge satisfaction!

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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.

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 70

We apologize for the delay in publishing our Top 5, but you know, September is full of tasks for “academics” (new courses, publications, conferences, post-summer stress, etc.). Here below our suggestions:

First of all, it seems that Russian fighter jest entered in Syria (with transponders off..). A turning point for the conflict (and the proxy-war)?

As fans of content and discourse analyses, here you’ll find an interesting comparison of the speeches by the last two Popes (Benedict and Francis) to the UN.

Are interested in the evolution of international peacekeeping? Political Violence at a Glance argues that we should review our traditional pessimist view on PKOs: “The surprising thing about peacekeeping — the real story — is that, despite its many problems, it works”.

What happens in Burkina Faso? The Guardian helps you in better understanding the state of democracy in the African country after the last troubles.

Finally, this week we had the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations: “The Worlds of Violence”. Here you’ll find all the info on panel and papers presented at the convention (which has been held at Giardini Naxos, Sicily).

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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 32

First of all, the end of South Stream. Putin announced that he would scrap the strategic gas pipeline. So Russia will abandon the project. As reported by The New York Times, South Stream was “a grandiose project that was once intended to establish the country’s dominance in southeastern Europe but instead fell victim to Russia’s increasingly toxic relationship with the West“. Here you’ll find the report of The Moscow Times.

Moving from Russia to Iraq, it is worth noticing that Iran is deeply involved in military operations against the ISIL. The Pentagon revealed that Iranian fighter jets (F-4E?) have bombed Islamic State militants in eastern Iraq in recent days.

Remaning in Arlington, Ashton Carter emerges as  the top choice to replace outgoing Secretary Chuck Hagel. Here you’ll find the scoop (CNN). Carter served as Deputy Defense Secretary under both Leon Panetta and Hagel. His main focus has been the management of the defense budget (should we expect some changes also for the F35 programme?).

“Vice” provided several funny articles on “how to invade or conquer” different countries, such as Scotland, France, Russia or the UK. A sort of paradoxical sic-fi perspective on current security affairs. Also ViA contributed regarding the case of Italy.

Finally, one of the most important news of the week: Star Wars. Here the “The Force Awakens” Official Teaser. A lot of discussion on the new lightsaber. A suggestion: Dont’ underestimate the power of the Dark Side…

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 21

Iraq and the Islamic State are on the center of the global stage on their own this week. President Obama’s Administration is still struggling to find a balance between the perceived need to intervene and limit action of IS (roll it back, too?) and the mantra of “don’t do stupid s**t” that supposedly drive the current external action. But how much of a threat is the IS? This article reviews the American debate, showing the diversity of views among US policy-makers, pundits, and so on.

Still on perception and communication of foreign policy, Ryan Evans assesses the link between events occurred two years ago in Benghazi, Libya, with the killing of an American diplomat and Obama’s foreign policy (not just on Libya).  On the one hand, too much focus on a single event, related attempt to build a political case against the President’s management of the issue, can lead to overlooking the big picture. On the other, the case “laid bare” more structural shortcomings of “Obama’s national security communications apparatus” (Evans talks about “incompetence” and “cynicism”).

Israel is now disappearing from the news, with military confrontation in Gaza stopped. There has been some revival in the interest over Israeli nuclear program, starting from its origins. The Atlantic features an article calling for Israel to be more transparent on its nukes, arguably the country’s “worst kept secret”.

Thursday might be a historical moment for Scotland, as the vote on the referendum on independence will be cast. The London Review of Books presents a wide panel of opinions on the vote and its consequences for Scotland and the UK.

Finally, a group of American and Russian experts met in Finland for a classic “Track 2 diplomacy” initiative. Robert Legvold on the National Interest assesses the suggestions of the panel of experts and discusses critiques brought by opposers of the initiative.




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