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Author Archive

Realpolitik: Big Boy Games, Big Boy Rules

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Today we learned of a fracture in the western alliance system as French and German leaders head off to Russia for peace talks on the Ukrainian crisis. This is a desperate and misguided attempt to reach a resolution, which in all likelihood is going to fail. The inescapable fact is that Russia is an aggressive state with a belligerent leader, who has thus far only played the realpolitik game. Already torn up is the German-brokered ceasefire from late 2014, not to mention treaties from the nineties which guaranteed Ukrainian border integrity. Without anyone effectively challenging Putin, there is no reason to believe that he will sit down and settle a political solution. The famed strongman of world politics will only back down and make terms when the alternative for him, continued belligerence, is the worse option.

One can only wonder where Angela Merkel’s reputation as the Iron Lady of Europe came from. So far she has only continually reiterated her country’s unwillingness to fight or supply arms to the Ukrainians as well as opposing proposals for new stationing of NATO troops in Eastern European countries. This stance is undoubtedly popular in a Germany which is still dealing with war guilt towards Russia and is more sceptical of its relationship with the United States. Merkel has also previously been praised for her understanding of Russia, having grown up in East Germany and for her fluent Russian. However her understanding had an obvious blind spot in the Crimea crisis. German-backed energy deals with Russia were no hindrance to the illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of East Ukraine. Europe has effectively been caught with its pants down. Continue reading

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All Guns Blazing – The Fickle Nature Of Lethal Force

Je_suis_Charlie,_Montreal,_7_January_2015

Recent cases of hostage stand-offs in Australia and France have been ended by force, bringing this tactic into the limelight once again. Unfortunately this means of ending a hostage siege is unavoidably dangerous even amongst the most highly trained of police or military units, and their use should be limited to cases where all other avenues have been exhausted. In particular, negotiated surrender risks falling by the wayside as a viable option. Because society tends to value the hero who dramatically takes lives rather than the hero who quietly saves them, we risk a selection-bias in examining the optimal means to end hostage scenarios.

As a credit to the police units involved, yesterday’s stand-offs in France seem to have been a ‘home-run’. The Kouachi brothers were both killed while the single hostage escaped unharmed, although it appears that they exited without him, determined to die fighting. While four hostages died in the kosher supermarket, earliest reports suggest that they were murdered before the police raid took place. This success is commendable but should not set a precedent to the exclusion of other alternatives. In contrast, the Sydney siege saw the death of two hostages during the rescue and the injury of three others in still unclear circumstances. These cases demonstrate the fickle nature of such raids. Continue reading

Crisis Year: International Relations 2014

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In a morose way, 2014 has been a fascinating year for those with an interest in International Relations. Resurgent Russia and Islamic State have presented two prominent challenges to western liberal world order. The optimistic ‘end of history’ liberalism of the 1990’s now feels like a golden bygone era of stability and prosperity. In its place is a world where the hegemonic power of the United States is limited by insurgencies and despotic powers. In the field of international relations, realist scholars have had a long awaited ‘we told you so moment’. John Mearsheimer has ruffled many feathers with his article in Foreign Affairs ‘Why the Crisis in Ukraine is the West’s Fault’. Regardless of how palatable it is, Mearsheimer’s argument is frustratingly robust, and he presents credible counters to his critics. EU and NATO expansion has encroached into a region that Russia considers critical to its own security, and the latter has firmly drawn a line in the sand, violating international treaties and norms in a display of pure power politics. Although Russia is paying a price, it has asserted itself outside of its own borders in a way that the west cannot prevent. It seems that at long last, balancing is occurring, and the ‘rest’ are pushing back against the ‘west’ after a decade of diminishing US legitimacy and soft power. Continue reading

Autarky In Weaponry- Russia’s Not So New Option

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Russia’s resurgence is reminiscent of the Cold War in numerous ways, and already, some of the same mistakes are being made. In particular, Russia’s latest move towards self-sufficiency in weapons production is doing it no favours.

Over the last few months Russia has announced moves towards domestic procurement of weaponry to offset reliance on imports. Famously we have the French built-aircraft carrier now floating idly in port after France was pressured into halting the transaction.  Vladimir Putin announced moves to invest in domestic high-tech industries. This is the kind of rhetoric that politicians wheel out to appeal to patriotic sentiment, but in the reality is simply untenable and hinders a country militarily. Full-spectrum and autonomous weapons production was once a necessity to be a great power but in the globalised age is untenable. Continue reading

Some Fights Are Right: Obama’s IS Strategy

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Barack Obama has received criticism for his recent expansion of strikes against IS to include Syria. On the far left are those who object outright to liberal intervention, while on the right of the spectrum Senator Rand Paul labelled him a ‘neo-con’. However despite his perceived hesitancy, Obama’s strategy looks set to hit a sweet spot between reckless and cautious that is grounded in sound principles and is the best reasonable response to the current threat posed by IS.

IS are the closest the 21st century has to the Nazi’s- fundamentally motivated, exceptionally violent and on a quest that is their downfall before it has even begun. Their so called caliphate has no precedent in history. Killing Shia as easily as they behead innocent westerners or massacre Yazidi Iraqis, the group’s strategy is founded on brutality, with no room for any form of tolerance or compromise, to the point where they have drawn condemnation from Al-Qaeda. Mass murder of civilians and trafficking of women for as sex slaves are par for the course with IS . This incarnation of radical Islam is now the richest terrorist organization in history.  It has also shown itself to be a master of cinematic and striking (and ironically western style) media campaigns in a way that Al-Qaeda never was, making it the most hot brand of radical Islam. The stunning videos are a draw for young radicals of fighting age as well as rich benefactors who may be sympathetic to their cause, and is possibly the greatest threat posed by IS. However despite capturing swathes of Iraqi and Syrian cities (and open desert), the groups has united even larger swathes of the world against it through its actions. General consensus already exists. This includes almost every parliament and head of state in the world, as well as mainstream Muslim groups in western countries (see the “Not in my name” campaign if you feel like blaming regular Muslims). Continue reading

Joan Burton Squares Off With Mary Lou McDonald

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Heated debate took place this morning on Newstalk between two of the most prominent women in Irish politics. After tossing over the topical issues of the day the segment developed into a scrap on Sinn Fein’s legacy of association with Republican violence.

Burton criticised a lack of discussion and transparency on what she called recently at a Labour conference the ‘Sinn Fein – IRA nexus’. Some certainly may be tired of Burton’s approach, the usual refuge of Irish politicians who come under fire from Sinn Fein TD’s. Mary Lou retorted with a very articulate criticism of Eamon Gilmore’s alleged involvement with Official IRA groups. However there is no doubt that many Irish people are still troubled by the issue Burton discussed and it seems likely that Sinn Fein will have to distance itself further from association with the republican violence. Although the significant ground made by Sinn Fein was the main story of the recent elections, it should also be noted that many middle-leaning voters seem to have favoured the disgraced Fianna Fail party over Sinn Fein. This, in the face of the fact that we were voting against a government that has implemented several unpopular austerity budgets, tells us Sinn Fein have not yet moved into the political mainstream of Ireland. Continue reading

Obama’s Dilemma And World Hesitation

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Over a year ago I contributed a piece to this website which mentioned the use of torture by Syrian government forces in an organised fashion. It should be no surprise to us that the Assad regime has gone ahead and used gas on its own people. The Assad regime is without a doubt an evil regime hell-bent on maintaining power in any way possible. It is disheartening and tragic that this can continue in the twenty first century. We are essentially sitting watching another Rwanda happen, albeit over a longer period of time.

Living in the large shadow of the Gulf War II it is to be expected that western powers are going to be hesitant to intervene in another Middle East conflict. Assad’s regime is reportedly preparing for a U.S. strike, with reports coming through of troops, ordinance and sensitive documents being moved to civilian buildings and discreet locations. Obama’s decision to delay any possible action seems to be allowing time for Assad to prepare for this possibility. However the decision is hugely complex and Obama will have a number of motivations for his decision.

Following on Britain’s example, Obama is seeking Congressional approval for his action. One can easily see the allure of having a strong consensus built behind military action, given the disaster that was Iraq. Domestic factors may be present in the president’s mind. Intervening without Congressional approval (as in Libya) would leave Obama and the Democrats open to criticism from Rand Paul et al, hailing the UK as an example of how a democracy should decide on entering into a war. This would be an easy card to play to an American public which may balk at the prospect of another drawn out war. They have seen enough American boys come home in body bags.

Syria is also stocked full of new Russian anti-aircraft technology, and the supply chain will not halt any time soon. The UN is also unlikely to reach a strong consensus due to Russia and China’s position on the Security Council. This is an issue which needs to be changed as the current setup of the security council prevents it functioning to its full and proper potential.

There are numerous other complications so boggling that nobody can say with any certainty what will happen. The Islamic fundamentalist elements among the Syrian rebels are a mysterious threat. During this week, Iran threatened retaliation against Israel if Syria were struck. The war has already spilled over into Lebanon. Egypt, once reliable as a bastion of stability, is now more chaotic than any other point in recent years. One cannot blame America for being apprehensive about beginning to bomb a region that could inflame the whole region.

The great tragedy of these complications is that the carnage continues. This was the second gas attack by Syrian government forces, twice crossing Obama’s ‘Red Line’. The UK’s rash decision to avoid war, and America’s hesitation will send out the wrong message worldwide. This message is clear when we hear reports of the Syrian government taunting America’s aversion to war and loss of superpower status. To prevent mass war crimes against whole peoples in the future, perpetrators must understand they will be brought to justice. John Kerry has a reputation as a dull operator, but he has been an ardent supporter of intervention. He is one of a few prominent politicians with the conviction to call the Syrian government for what it is.

The firm line taken by France is hardly surprising given their willingness to become involved in former colonies like Chad and Mali.

Obama had missed the opportunity to be decisive and take a firm line on Syria. The UK has essentially forfeited its chance to help. The memories of Iraq, and the continuing deadlock of the U.N. Security Council means we are facing into more misery and more dead civilians with no end in sight.

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