Tag Archives: conflict

Chas Freeman:  Groupthink Foe or Political Firebrand?

Speaking out can cost you politically. Consider Chas Freeman, a career foreign service officer who served as DCM in Beijing and Bangkok, PDAS for African Affairs,and US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

In 2009 he was nominated as chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration, but the appointment was scuttled due to fierce opposition owing to his views on the Arab/Israeli conflict.

Chas Freeman’s selection … is notable not just for his surprising (and, to some, disturbing) even-handedness about the Middle East. The man is one of a rare breed: He is a Washington insider, and yet he is also a ferociously independent thinker, a super-realist, an iconoclast, a provocateur and a gadfly. He has, as I wrote in a Niemanwatchdog.org article about him in 2006, spent a goodly part of the last 10 years raising questions that otherwise might never get answered — or even asked — because they’re too embarrassing, awkward, or difficult.

For him to be put in charge of what Rozen calls “the intelligence community’s primary big-think shop and the lead body in producing national intelligence estimates” is about the most emphatic statement the Obama Administration could possibly make that it won’t succumb to the kind of submissive intelligence-community groupthink that preceded the war in Iraq.

Source: Watchdog Blog Blog Archive » A One-Man Destroyer of Groupthink


Military Trumps Diplomacy

The thesis, “militarization of [fill-in-the-blank]” has become rampant, isn’t new. In State vs. Defense, Stephen Glain explored how the traditional functions of diplomacy have become subsumed by the military-industrial complex, with mixed outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. And writing in 2012, Franz-Stefan Gady muses that militarized diplomacy “distorts assessments of U.S. influence and obscures national interest.”

Now, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor, protege of Michèle Flournoy, and Sheryl Sandberg contrarian delves deeper into the Pentagon in How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, to explore how this is happening.

Equally illuminating is her examination of the resentment that the military has generated by expanding its role, assuming responsibility for all manner of unlikely projects. In its efforts to stamp out future generations of terrorists, the Pentagon has sponsored peace concerts in Africa, distributed soccer balls with anti-extremist slogans in Iraq, trained judges in Afghanistan — anything to shore up stability in volatile nations. It drives State Department personnel and aid workers — the people who would ordinarily be charged with such efforts — nuts.

“You’ve got these kids,” one Agency for International Development worker told her, “these 30-year-old captains who’ve spent their lives learning to drive tanks and shoot people, and they think they know how to end poverty in Afghanistan, in six months.”

Source: Review: ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’ – The New York Times


Tagged , ,

Creating a New Europe in Vienna, 1814

Ballhausplatz, the Austrian seat of power and location for 1814’s meetings (as well as some bad boy behavior in the extreme).

History allows us to look back and create convenient categories, rightly or wrongly. One such set of bookends could include the 19th century’s run of peace and cooperation ending with the Great War in July 1914 and starting in Vienna, 1814.

Was this party in Vienna such a game changer? Some sigh with apathy–or debate the notion, but as Stephen Walt writes in ForeignPolicy.com, many rightly see this as a key turning point in global affairs:

After the Napoleonic Wars, diplomats and officials from all over Europe convened in Vienna to negotiate a peace settlement to resolve the various issues that had arisen after over two decades of war. Sure, there was a lot of hard-nosed haggling over borders and other arrangements, but historical accounts of the Congress also make it clear that the participants also engaged in months of energetic revelry, much of it of a decidedly lubricious sort. Historians who regard the Congress as a great success might argue that all this frivolity helped; those who believe the Congress left many critical issues unresolved probably think the assembled plenipotentiaries should have spent less time partying and more time on their work.

via Top 5 parties in world history | Foreign Policy.

Follow this animated map of 19th century Europe through the Congress to WWI to see how events evolved in the aftermath of Napoleon and how power was maintained by the victors, with clear losers being nationalistic aspirations and French revolutionary ideals in Poland, Belgium Norway, Italy, Germany, and among Balkan Christians (Serbs, Christians, Greeks, and Bulgurs).

click for animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.

click this animated explanation of how European powers divided up the Continent post-Napoleon.











No less than Henry Kissinger, the realpolitik living dean of international relations cut his teeth on the Congress of Vienna, writing his dissertation on Metternich the statesman. But an exciting new book on the topic by historian Adam Zamoyski takes on Kissinger’s conclusion directly, as noted in this Guardian book review:

For those who believe that jaw-jaw is more interesting than war-war, this is an exhilarating book. Zamoyski starts with the exhausted emperor hustling back to Paris after the retreat from Moscow to try to keep French domination of Europe alive. He finishes with a demolition job on Henry Kissinger, whose doctoral thesis on the diplomat Metternich praised the Congress of Vienna for giving Europe a century of peace. Zamoyski has no time for Kissinger or his Austrian hero, Metternich.

The system that came to be called the Concert of Europe, Zamoyski writes, “imposed an orthodoxy which not only denied political existence to many nations; it enshrined a particularly stultified form of monarchical government; institutionalised social hierarchies as rigid as any that existed under the ancien régime; by excluding whole classes and nations this system nurtured envy and resentment, which flourished into socialism and aggressive nationalism.”



Tagged , ,

Fear Crime More than War?

Global Study on Homicide

Worry about warfare? Yes, that’s important. But if you are concerned about being the victim of armed conflict or what a new UN global study on homicide calls “collective violence”, you are more likely top be facing what some might consider ‘street crime’ as a more likely scenario.

Homicide and acts of personal violence kill more people than wars and are the third-leading cause of death among men aged 15 to 44, the United Nations said Wednesday in a new report.


Around the world, there were about 475,000 homicide deaths in 2012 and about six million since 2000, “making homicide a more frequent cause of death than all wars combined in this period,” the report states.

via More People Die From Homicide Than in Wars, U.N. Says – NYTimes.com.

The cost? According to the Copenhagen Consensus Centre as reported in the Guardian, it adds up to 11% of the world gross domestic product, around $9.5 trillion.

Also, of interest–the safest region to live in would be Asia, followed by Oceania and Europe. The Americas ranks last, with 16.3 homicides per 100k population.

Homocide rates by region 2012

Tagged , ,

Why World War I Resonates – NYTimes.com

No society today would accept such a horrendous casualty count. At the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916, the British Army suffered 60,000 dead and wounded — in one day. It was arguably the worst butcher’s bill in military history, of army versus army. There is a very real sense in which the modern world — our world — was born between 1914 and 1918. Something changed in human sensibility. Soldiers wouldn’t be willing to engage in such slaughter. Toward the end of the First World War, even, tolerance for past norms had begun to end. In 1917, much of the French Army mutinied and refused to attack. They would defend but not attack. The days of cannon fodder were over forever as a result of that war, which is a further reason artists try to re-imagine it constantly.

via Why World War I Resonates – NYTimes.com.

Tagged ,

Is War Inevitable? John Horgan argues for The End of War.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: A McSweeney’s Books Preview: An Excerpt from John Horgan’s The End of War.

Can a scientific approach to understanding conflict accurately conclude that we are not destined to perpetual war?

A survey I carried out for the show “RadioLab” was typical. I approached a score of pedestrians on the streets of Hoboken, where I teach, and asked them if humans would ever stop fighting wars. I got three tentative Yeses and seventeen immediate, adamant Nos. “No,” replied Mark, a sixty-year-old dentist, “because of greed, and one-upmanship, and the hierarchy of power, in which everybody wants more.” War “is a universal law of life,” agreed Patel, a twenty-four-year-old computer scientist. “To get something, you have to fight for something.”

Young people seem especially fatalistic. I teach a course called “War and Human Nature” at my university. One assignment requires my students to ask ten or more classmates: “Will humans ever stop fighting wars, once and for all? Why or why not?” More than 90 percent of the four hundred or so respondents said “no.” The justifications were diverse: “We’re naturally evil” was especially common. “People are always going to hate and try to destroy ‘inferiors.’” “Monkeys fight with each other and because humans are animals too, we follow that pattern.” “Men are power crazy and women are not in power.” “People would just get bored with no war.

via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: A McSweeney’s Books Preview: An Excerpt from John Horgan’s The End of War..

Could it be that male dominance is the problem?  Would a world run by women solve this problem?  Horgan isn’t optimistic on this solution.

Is this approach a pie-in-the-sky, peacenik pipe dream?  Isn’t war part of human nature? David Barash writes in the Chronicle’s Brainstorm blog the following:

The End of War is neither unrealistic nor unadulterated Pollyanna; Horgan looks hard at a variety of explanations for war, concluding that to some extent it has become a nasty meme, a cultural tradition, and a self-fulfilling prophecy. “We kill and torture,” he suggests, “because we’re sheep, not psychopathic wolves.” He gives ample attention to the “bad barrel” theory recently elaborated by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford Prison Experiment fame, along with homage to Stanley Milgram (“obedience to authority”) and the hopeful aspects of the justly renowned Robber’s Cave Experiment, conducted by Muzafer Sherif.

via Brainstorm | Blogs | The Chronicle of Higher Education

Kudos for Horgan for taking this important discussion not only to media channels for consideration–but also to online audiences through Reddit.


Can Diplomacy Trump Aggression in Ukraine?

@RUNet Memes

Yesterday an emergency Security Council meeting provided the stage for more talk on Ukraine. Steven Pifer still thinks a Russian military intervention to be unlikely–but it does seem to be  clear that Putin is interested in more than Crimea. And the U.S. seems to understand that Putin is living a carefully developed fiction--one entirely of his own creation.

The U.S. take on events over the weekend:

This was no peaceful spring weekend for Ukraine.  Coordinated, well-armed Russian-backed militants attacked government buildings in a professional operation in six cities in eastern regions.  Many of the attackers were carrying Russian-origin weapons and outfitted in bulletproof vests and camouflage uniforms with insignia removed.

Observers on the ground saw that the events were carefully planned and orchestrated.  In Kharkiv, as pro-Russian groups neared pro-Ukrainian protesters, women, children, and medics moved away, leaving only well-armed young men to approach the pro-Ukrainian protestors.  These people were looking for a fight.  The pro-Russian “demonstration” was in fact a bloody attack on peaceful, pro-unity demonstrators.

The attacks occurred simultaneously in multiple locations.  These were not grass-roots political protests.  These armed “demonstrators” took over government administration buildings and security headquarters, seized weapons, forced local officials to abandon their offices, and attacked communications towers.

via Ukraine: Choosing Diplomacy Over Aggression | DipNote.

Writing in the Guardian, Ian Black lays out five possible scenarios, including a Ukrainian use of force, Russian intervention, US/EU Sanctions, NATO intervention, as well as diplomacy (which didn’t work in the Crimean situation).

Tagged ,

Quantifying Conflict

Can data-triven analyses give us better forecasting of genocide? Somini Sengupta explains:

Australian researchers say they have developed a mathematical model to predict genocide. A Swiss sociologist has sifted through a century of news articles to predict when war will break out — both between and within countries. A Duke University lab builds software that it says can be used to forecast insurgencies. A team assembled by the Holocaust Museum is mining hate speech on Twitter as a way to anticipate outbreaks of political violence: It will be rolled out next year for the elections in Nigeria, which have frequently been marred by violence.

What makes these efforts so striking is that they rely on computing techniques — and sometimes huge amounts of computing power — to mash up all kinds of data, ranging from a country’s defense budget and infant mortality rate to the kinds of words used in news articles and Twitter posts.

via Spreadsheets and Global Mayhem – NYTimes.com.

Tagged , ,

A Crimea Primer

Once again The Onion nails it, capturing the U.S. milieu of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine as “pitting…those who have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about and those who couldn’t care less.”  By reading this you are definitely not in the latter group; consider this an attempt to mitigate our collective ignorance from inside the former category. But seriously–the issue in the Crimea is that 46 million people are being held hostage in a tug of war reminiscent of the Cold War, igniting national passions, military alternative plans, and diplomatic overdrives.

The Crisis Situation

  • Start with this FAQ on Russia’s takeover of the Crimea by Joshua Keating, including answers to questions about what Russia may intend, why Crimea is important, and a Western response. [Slate]
  • The CFR Backgrounder, “Ukraine in Crisis” explores the crisis, Russian concerns, international law, and policy options [CFR]
  • Ukraine is a diverse country according to Glenn Kates [the Atlantic], but is more like a brother to Russia via Akos Lada [Monkey Cage]
  • Revealing the crisis in maps [NYT]

What’s the Deal with the Crimea?

  • Follow the history, boundary changes, and government of Crimea from 1783 to the present in six NatGeo maps.  300 Years of Embattled Crimea History in 6 Maps.
  • Why the Tartars are the Biggest Victims [Slate] and one parliamentarians’ perspective on the lack of quorum for the vote. [RFERL]
  • On “irredentism,” the effort to reunify a ‘lost’ territory from R. William Ayres and Stephen M. Saideman [Monkey Cage]
  • What Crimeans really want: Russian dictatorship [FP]

The Blame Game

  •  Kristof makes that case that blaming Obama is misguided from  Senators Graham and McCain, Rep. Mike Rogers, WaPo and WSJ. [NYT]
    Anne Applebaum on how the West enables Russia’s corruption [Slate]
  • Are we using sloppy thinking in assuming the worst from Putin? Professor Stephen Cohen of NYU offers a different view of Russian intentions. [TNR]  And “some things are not wrong just because Russians happen to believe them.” Charles King further explains the Russian “interpretive frame.” [NYT]
  • Hitler and Stalin blamed the Jews and today Putin blames Fascists in Kiev, writes Cohen, as “Ukraine Fights for its Truth” [NYT]

Big Picture

  • Could Putin’s strategy really just be be made up on the fly?  [Atlantic] … or is there a much larger strategy, as Stephen Hadley suggests [WaPo]
  • Strategist Stephen Walt asks why would Putin go along with a US/EU “engineer[ed] ouster” of a democratically elected pro-Russian leader anyway? [FP]
  • Why Russia’s takeover complicates China’s own governance [PRI] and results in a split [The Cable FP]
  • Dennis Ross thinks that decisive US leadership could help  Middle East framework negotiations [CFR] or possibly even outmaneuver Russia over Syria [Best Defense FP]
  • Germany’s economic ties to Russia limit its leverage [FP]
  • Read up on the neighborhood.  Charles King’s suggestions on what to read on the Caucasus. [Foreign Affairs]


  • Timothy Snyder on how fostering “peace and democracy” in Ukraine requires starting with the truth; the crisis wasn’t a “fascist coup” [NYRblog]
  • Try the Mylovanov Proposal, or reforming Ukraine’s internal political system through decentralization via Timothy Frye [Monkey Cage].  Meanwhile, Ukrainian electoral politics fail to create viable alternatives [leMondediplo]
  • Increasing national gas exports = a tool against Russia. [NYT Editorial]
  • How Western economic sanctions hold leverage over Putin [NYRB] [World Affairs]
  • Consider Austrian neutrality, negotiated from 1945-55,  as a useful model [The National Interest]
  • A breakup is unlikely as long as level-headed statesmanship prevails [American Interest]
  • How this ends by Henry Kissinger [WaPo]
  • NEW Convene Western Powers to Stop Russia [The National Interest]

Updated Must Reads

Tagged , , ,

Doing Nothing as a Winning Strategy

Think about this when you read the drumbeat for standing up to Russian aggression (Crimea was already lost) or even a neo-conservative plea for “action” (read: another military engagement.)

The power of doing nothing is prescient from Cold Warriors to the present-day conflicts between major powers. In an essay on the virtues of caution in global politics and the reimagined strength of Dwight Eisenhower, Sam Tanenhaus astutely observes  that “many decisions remembered today for their farsighted, tactical brilliance were denounced in their day as weak-willed.”

This approach can be seen as a pragmatic form of realism–but not the strategic-style of politics that played out through the 19th and 20th centuries in the West.

Lippmann, a dean of foreign policy realism, argued that policy should be made in the spirit of pragmatism, rather than as a global crusade against Communism that would require the headache, or worse, of “recruiting, subsidizing and supporting a heterogeneous array of satellites, clients, dependents and puppets.”

In fact the costliest maneuvers — chess-piece gambits in Korea and Vietnam — backfired, increasing tensions abroad even as they shook public confidence at home.

Overheated rhetoric often contributed to trouble. In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected on a Republican platform that promised to replace the Communist containment strategy of President Harry S. Truman with a more aggressive “liberation” policy that would seize the initiative from the Soviet Union.

via A History Lesson That Needs Relearning – NYTimes.com.

Tagged , , ,