21 October 2010
At first sight, these threats are diverse – almost improbably so. But on close inspection, they seem to have a number of common denominators. One of these common denominators is that none lend themselves to purely military action. Even the threat of conventional warfare is not something that the Ministry of Defence can counter alone. Whilst undoubtedly a overwhelmingly military affair, modern conventional warfare would also have a great deal to do with diplomacy and economic muscle.
With the possible exception of natural disaster, the Tier 1 threats are all likely to involve an enemy. But countering that enemy sustainably is highly unlikely to be something which the military can do alone. A much more complex – or multidimensional – response is required from the British Government. It is for this reason that the new Government in the UK has established a National Security Council. The idea is to anticipate, prevent and manage potential threats before they actually have the chance to target the UK’s welfare.
So what do the major threats have in common? One possible answer is poverty and social, economic and political exclusion. Whilst there is no doubt that the UK has some determined enemies, it is equally clear that these enemies are not, for the most part, other states. The threats facing the UK are so-called asymmetric. And to a large degree, poverty and exclusion are their recruiting sergeants.
So why has the the UK’s new national threat assessment centred so much on the symptoms – terror attacks and the like – and to a lesser degree on tackling the causes? Perhaps the answer lies more in a desire on the part of the UK military to protect itself from vicious spending cuts. But military personnel involved in countering the Tier 1 threats to the UK on the ground are very clear that military action alone is not the answer. They perceive a need to combine hard and soft security measures with development and humanitarian action. They point to the so-called “three block war” as evidence for the kinds of integrated capabilities that the UK needs to counter the threats it faces effectively.
So the simple approach is to identify where the threats faced by the UK originate, and to focus both military and development effort on them. But the evidence is that this does not work. For a start, the mere presence of foreign military forces probably promotes the fear of external overlordship. And as military personnel well know, the enemy in an asymmetric conflict won’t sit still – they run and hide, exploiting irritating minor concerns like national sovereignty and borders. Is the answer therefore to deploy development assistance where military force leads? Probably not. But there is a a good argument for ensuring that non-military means are fully integrated into UK military endeavour. The lessons of Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan seem not to stay learnt, despite numerous after action reviews and lesson identification processes.
By tackling social, economic and political exclusion generally, UK development interventions are directly targeting one if not two of the Tier 1 threats to the UK. But as with military action, they are not doing so alone. At present the UK seems to be tied up in a form of government defined by the interests of its constituent parts rather than by a higher order strategic direction. What is needed is what the military might term “effects based government”.
In order to be able to tackle poverty, the UK development programme needs to be able to work where the military does not; in countries and regions that do not – perhaps yet – pose a direct threat to the UK. The UK is safest in a world which values and acknowledges diversity. So we need to ensure that DFID is acknowledged as a vital contributor to UK national security interest; and its analysis and voice needs to be influential on the National Security Council.
After all, DFID is countering the future threats that the UK doesn’t yet know it faces. Development is a security issue; and security is a development issue. Now we just need a Whitehall that understands that tackling both is a short and long term game involving a wide range of actors - not just the boys and their toys.
13 October 2010
South Africa has just been elected to serve a second two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is a welcome development, and provides South Africa – and the Continent – with another opportunity to demonstrate Africa’s capacity to take part in global decision making; and to shape discussion and choices at the highest level. It also provides South Africa with an opportunity to make up for the perceived shortcomings of its last stint on the Council. Many observers found the Rainbow Nation’s democratic origins to be at odds with some of their statements and votes. Criticism of South Africa’s refusal to allow Zimbabwe to be debated in detail at the Council still rankles – both within the country and globally. But there was a good reason for this – Zimbabwe was apparently being handled as an African issue at the time. Three years on and it will be harder for South Africa to make the same claim with very much credibility. This will leave Pretoria’s political strategists with a problem. There are much bigger prizes to be won whilst serving on the Security Council. The prizes are especially clear when one sees who else will be on the Council – at least during 2011.
Including permanent and non-permanent members 2011 offers the prospect of a BRICS Security Council. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will all be on the Council together. This offers a real prospect for issues that matter to the BRICS countries to be debated – and perhaps resolved. Perhaps we might finally see real reform of the Security Council during this time. Certainly the western permanent members will find it very hard to argue against a well made case, backed by the countries – and the economies – in which they all want to invest. But the challenge to the BRICS countries will be to keep their demands in proportion – and within the bounds of political possibility. Too much band standing for the sake of scoring political points with other African leaders will quickly backfire on South Africa. Better to use well founded principle to back up their Security Council action. They have experience of this – the vote on human rights in Burma is a case in point. South Africa had good cause to vote against – but it handled the politic and the PR very poorly. These days, “good” service on the Security Council is a lot more transparent and demanding. Pretoria will need to bring their own population along, and provide wise counsel with the other BRICS.
12 October 2010
What’s going on in Zimbabwe? The war of words between ZANU and its opponents seems to be increasing in intensity. Since re-discovering his backbone, Tsvangari seems to be determined to land more and more punches on ZANU and Mugabe. Perhaps he thinks that it is best to get a few hits in first before the inevitable violent response.
Recently he has taken exception (rightly) to Mugabe’s appointees as Ambassadors and separately Governors. He seems to have abandoned his earlier conciliatory tone and now – finally – seems to be speaking up for his constituency. No doubt Tendai Biti is – at least in part – responsible for this. Although part of Tsvangari’s strategy in playing the faithful Prime Minister to Mugabe’s Presidential Machiavelli was designed to re-assure ZANU that the MDC was not automatically a bad thing, he was probably also seeking to keep SADC on board in support of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). But SADC seems to be wilfully looking the wrong way. They are apparently blind to Mugabe’s excesses whilst careless of the corner in which Tsvangarai and his allies increasingly find themselves trapped. Instead of working to ensure that elections are held in Zimbabwe which reflect the will of the many and not just the (elite) few, SADC seems to have rallied around a call to remove the restrictive measures placed on about 100 of Zimbabwe’s most prolific cleptocrats.
Previously, the focus of wider frustration was Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s former President and SADC’s Zimbabwe mediator. His strategy of quiet diplomacy was widely thought to have failed, but perhaps more accurately might be best accused of serving South African interests first and everyone else’s last or not at all (surely at least partly in the job description for a President of an independent state). He has been replaced by his successor in the Union Buildings, Jacob Zuma, but the effect seems pretty much the same. Zuma’s only major success on Zimbabwe was to win agreement amongst the Harare political elites for elections in 2011. But now officials close to the election process in Zimbabwe say that the chances of successful elections being held in 2011 are slim. Better, they seem to say to wait until 2012 – although what will be different then is not very clear.
What will it take to avoid the next round of credibility sapping political upheaval in Zimbabwe? Probably not more words from outside Africa, but real pressure – that hurts – on SADC member states. The trouble is that the EU is trying very hard not to upset the South Africans at the moment, and all the countries of the region have alternatives partners waiting to mark their cards and lead them to the dance floor. So an increase in righteous indignation looks likely to matched by a decrease in any form of effective action.
Whilst ordinary Zimbabweans are preparing for a pre-election period (which already seems to have started) characterised by an increasing level of “sticks and stones”, perhaps the main problem is going to be that unlike in the much repeated rhyme, the words will hurt a great deal too.
11 October 2010
Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa, wants to resurrect – phoenix like – the African Renaissance, the precursor to the New Partnership for African Development or NEPAD. And there is nothing wrong with his ambition to help realise the aspirations of Africans.
The problem is that the African Renaissance was a big idea – a high level concept – which was meant to empower Africa and Africans to take control of their own destiny. It was a cerebral and worthy response to the conditions under which Africa has laboured for too long. It seemed to be as much a product of Mbeki’s academic background as anything else, and it never really survived contact with reality – either in Africa or globally.
Quickly – almost too quickly – the African Renaissance was translated into a shopping list of big infrastructure and other border-line vanity projects. Briefly roads, bridges, ports, irrigation and sanitation projects burst like fireworks in the night sky into the planners dreams. Dog in the manger donors, recoiling at the prospect of paying out yet more large sums, failed to step up to the plate citing very credible concerns about governance, accountability and corruption. The brief flame of the African Renaissance settled into the steady low heat of NEPAD, an organisation which radiated all the outward signs of a solution looking for a problem. Far from the then epicentre of African politics (which stubbornly remained in Addis Ababa with the African Union), the NEPAD Secretariat fought a rear guard battle against its logical integration into the AU’s quick sand like bureaucracy. It was hard to escape the view that the main motivation for this resistance had much to do with salaries and benefits (both better in South Africa than in Addis Ababa).
But perhaps things are not that bad. Maybe this is the time to reinvigorate the African Renaissance as a guiding principle, just this time with a different implementation mechanism. Perhaps donors should not be called upon to give large sums to build national infrastructure. What is perhaps more appropriate is to use the African Renaissance as a rallying point for future commercial investment in Africa. In the short term, some investments will prove to have been built on sandy soil. But the world of international finance is a lot more hardnosed than that of development. Corruption and malpractice do not allow long term investments to prosper and grow – or to turn profits for their investors.
Providing donor funds are specifically ruled out as a funding source or safety net, there is a chance that the African Renaissance could blaze a trail for good, clean economic growth in Africa.
8 October 2010
Two reports on the BBC recently suggest that in their own way the various military operations working on Somalia are having an effect.
EU NAVFOR expects the next piracy season to be a difficult one, but they believe that it is generally getting harder for pirates to be successful. They argue that the number of successful hijackings versus the number attempted has “dropped from 50% a few years ago to 20-30% this year”. The problem seems to be that this frustrates the pirates, so the crews and vessels they seize are likely to have a harder time of it. Ransom demands are inching higher, and the amounts actually paid are also increasing. And NAVFOR expect that sooner or later a sailor is going to get killed.
The African Union Mission in Somalia or AMISOM say that they are starting to gain the upper hand over the insurgents who have so far made Mogadishu a particularly uncomfortable military posting – mostly for soldiers from Uganda. AMISOM argues that it needs another 14,000 troops and a lot more money to be effective.
Both of these apparent successes seem to have something in common. They both rely on the increasing difficulty the Somali side is encountering in keeping their forces together. At sea, the pirates are having to range farther and farther afield, and even their legendary resilience is being tested. (And it seems that pirate discipline breaks down almost completely – and potentially dangerously – when the spoils are divided.) In Mogadishu, AMISOM’s successes appear to have as much to do with divisions amongst the insurgents as it does with the strength of Africa’s forces.
But both successes seem to overlook the same thing: military force cannot hope to defeat an enemy whose main recruiting mechanism is poverty and social, economic and political exclusion. The idea of fighting the enemy until it drops and then moving on the state building has been clearly devalued in Iraq and Afghanistan and is about as appropriate in Somalia now as a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Neither of the international military forces fighting in or off Somalia now are part of a coherent plan for future peace- or state-building.
The cost of these military interventions is extremely high – hundreds of millions of US dollars a year. But the real winning strategy would be to make a business case for peace, and invest in its success. Failure to do so will see many brave African soldiers die, many innocent (and a few not so innocent) Somalis die – and one or two foreign sailors die too.
Perhaps flushed with pride at the country’s recent appearance in the pages of a Frederick Forsyth novel, Guinea Bissau fact continues to emulate fiction. According to Reuters, Bubo Na Tchuto has been re-appointed as the country’s new Navy head. This despite his alleged role in an earlier coup attempt and the inclusion of his name on a US list of people believed to be intimately involved with the narcotics trade in Guinea Bissau.
It is increasingly hard to read the signals from Bissau. The Prime Minister continues to sing from a hymn sheet broadly acceptable to the international donors and organisations concerned with stabilisation and development in Guinea Bissau, but the actions of the Government continue to be at odds with his words. The PM knows that Guinea Bissau’s image needs some serious polishing, and he has set about improving accountability and transparency within his sphere of influence within the Government. But the continued tenure of Antonio Injai, the new Chief of the Defence Staff following the 1 April mutiny, and the re-appointment of Bubo suggest that the politics of the ruling elite in Bissau has still not settled down. It is reasonable to expect more instability and disturbance from Bissau over the coming months, not least as the various factions seem to be out courting different international partners ranging from the European Union to Iran and Libya.
Sailing serenely through these decidedly troubled waters is Angola. A series of top level Bisssau Guinean military and civilian visitors have called at Luanda in recent months, and it seems clear that Angola is keen to partner many of them. Angola has commercial interest in Guinea Bissau for sure, but it is perhaps the case that Angola is also looking for a trouble spot in which to assert itself as a force for good. The African Union has appointed an Angolan as its Special Representative in Bissau, and Luanda seems to be doing a fairly good job of playing all sides. The jury is out on why Angola is engaging – beyond the obvious Lusophone connections. The proof of this particular pudding may well lie not in why they engage, but in what they do. Despite the oft repeated commitment of many to security sector reform in Guinea Bissau, the real issue is in fact military reform. If Angola can reign in the military, then they will have done something useful.
But Angola doesn’t have a free hand. Nigeria has recently woken up to Angola’s interest in Bissau. Long just about cordial rivals facing each other across the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria is unlikely to welcome a heavy Angolan footprint in Guinea Bissau. Angola’s apparent willingness to contribute to a military stabilisation force is likely to annoy Nigeria. But if the threat of doing so wakes Nigeria up to the problem in its backyard, it may yet prove the catalyst for better preventive action by the regional grouping, ECOWAS.
7 October 2010
Drugs now take the most elaborate routes to get from the countries where they are produced to the consumers. Increasingly the war against drugs is fought in the countries through which they pass on the way to the customer. But many of the countries of destination for drugs which transit developing nations fail to coordinate their counter-narcotic work with their development (or indeed other security) interests. So whilst it is possible to acknowledge, for example, that poor people require security and access to justice in much the same way that they require access to other basic services, few donor countries seek to ensure that their counter-narcotic work does not in some way harm wider development.
Although security sector reform is increasingly understood to be a key development activity, the kinds of short term, capability building that is normally employed by northern states facing a drugs threat works directly counter to the security and justice interests of poor people. Most wealthy states seek to interdict drug flows before they reach their national borders. To do this, they will invest significant sums in building only those security functions of the transit state which serve their purpose. This leads to a two speed security sector - a well resourced set of capabilities which essentially serve the immediate interests of the destination states; and a (normally) less well resourced rump which deals with the more routine, domestic issues. One of the consequences of this is to make the security sector increasingly remote from the people they are supposed to be serving - ordinary citizens. More conceptually, it leaves one asking whose security interests donor countries' security investments are really serving?
Whilst there will always be a need to be able to take immediate action to counter a proximate threat (such a drugs shipment; or indeed a terrorist threat) the trick is to help build national security capacities which can FIRST serve the interests of the ordinary citizen; and which SECOND serve external interests. In doing so, there is more chance that a sustainable security sector can be built in the medium and long term - one which ordinary citizens recognise as being of direct value to them and which therefore will earn the legitimacy to also carry out operations in partnership with the wider international community.
Interestingly, this goes to the heart of the wider security and development debate in the UK. Is it possible for UK International Development investments to also serve UK National Security interests? Broadly speaking, the answer is yes - with caveats. What is required is a narrative which clearly explains how development can also serve security. The answer is not to divert development resources towards hard security ends. But to recognise that the UK is safer in a more stable world where social, economic and political exclusion is sustainably tackled, thereby also reducing the opportunity for trans-national threats to the UK to flourish.
Investing in poverty reduction and promoting stability more widely are global public goods and properly planned, integrated and executed can serve everyone.
6 October 2010
With his usual style, Frederick Forsyth has produced another gripping, page turning novel. "The Cobra" pits single minded undercover operatives against the world of narcotic trafficking. But for the residents of one small, poor West African state, The Cobra is a rare opportunity to see their country's name in print other than in dry donor reports and security assessments.
Guinea Bissau has struggled with extreme instability since its independence from Portugal. It has endured coup, counter-coup, political assassinations and mutinies on a depressingly frequent basis. The population are poor and under-served by their government. The political and security elite are apparently indifferent to the country's plight. The countries of the region appear unable or unwilling to help; and the international community seems to do little more than tinker ineffectually whilst the day to day lives of ordinary Bissau-Guineans continues hard. Standards of governance are low, and the institutions of state designed to promote security and access to justice are incredibly weak. (Guinea Bissau has only recently managed to get one prison operating at anything approaching a serviceable standard – and that’s because the international community needed somewhere to lock up drug smugglers with something approaching a clear conscience.) But the elite put very little effort into resolving the country's difficulties - although the current Prime Minister has perhaps done more than most to address some of the key issues.
Thanks to its weakness and instability, Guinea Bissau has become a useful transit point for narcotics on their way from Latin America to Europe. And it seems clear that some individuals in Guinea Bissau have become rich in the process. For these people, there is little incentive to change: why give up a lucrative practice? For some time now, the international community have been trying to address the wider security sector problems, recognising that they are the key obstacle to progress. (Although this is not to underestimate the traditional development challenges which would remain once the security problems have been addressed.) But the latest incident, in which the Deputy Chief of Staff effectively mounted a coup within the military and had himself installed in place of his boss, has thrown international efforts into disarray. The European Union have decided to close down their security assistance mission, ECOWAS (a group of West African states) has effectively parked the question of intervening to help and the African Union are only now opening an office. This leaves the United Nations who are clearly an uncomfortable an uncomfortable observer of the game of often lethal musical chairs for which politics in Bissau can easily be mistaken.
Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are living under conditions of grinding poverty and are largely resigned to the antics of their leaders. At one level, Guinea Bissau is a classic example of a country about which the international community knows little and cares less. There are a number of quite credible arguments for leaving Guinea Bissau to its inevitable decay and collapse. But these are short term and overlook the country's potential impact on the wider world. Narcotic smuggling continues and there are signs that other trans-national criminal interests are moving in, attracted by the ability to operate not just outside the law but in an environment with no law. And some observers claim that Guinea Bissau risks falling to radical Islam as poverty tempts more and more people to seek alternatives to their apparently indifferent government. Left to its own devices, Guinea Bissau is at risk of becoming another weak and collapsing state in a volatile region. And who needs that?