United 40 Block 5 UAV at ADCOM’s Test Airfield in the United Arab Emirates

DigitalGlobe imagery from November 2014 shows ADCOM’s United 40 Block 5 UAV at the company’s test airstrip located south of Al Dhafra Airbase.

DigitalGlobe imagery from November 2014 shows ADCOM’s United 40 Block 5 UAV at the company’s test airstrip located south of Al Dhafra Airbase.

When the US denied the sale of armed Predator drones to fulfill UAE Air Force requirements in 2002, the Gulf country set out to fill the gap by developing its own medium altitude long endurance UAV. Local target drone manufacturer ADCOM Systems took up the challenge and has helped further develop the UAE’s defense industrial base with its United 40 model.

Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe shows the UAE testing the United 40 block 5 at the company’s remote desert airstrip 30 miles outside of the heart of Abu Dhabi. Imagery from November 2014 captured the UAV along with the associated ground control station integrated in a van parked nearby.

Historical imagery suggests the 600 m long airstrip was paved a year prior — possibly in preparation for test and evaluation. Company video of the block 5’s maiden flight from March 2013 appears to match this airstrip.

One of the latest in the series, the block 5 was first displayed at Abu Dhabi’s International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) 2013 after a similar showing of a previous variant at IDEX 2011.

The block 5 preserves the unusual biplane configuration, though with some significant changes. Most notably, the block 5 swaps the aft fuselage-mounted single push propeller for twin-engine props positioned forward under-wing. The two 115 hp engines and 17.5 meter-long high aspect ratio wings allow the drone to carry payloads up to 1050kg — which includes the weight of two electro-optical cameras and optional synthetic aperture radar.

Like the previous version, the block 5 features an internal rotary launcher which contains six precision guided bombs, for a possible ten when including rear under-wing carriage. ADCOM reports the UAV has a maximum cruise speed of 220 km/h and a flight ceiling of 8,000 m. The company also claims a flight endurance of more than 100 hours. Unlike western counterparts, operators manning the associated ground control station can only pilot two of the UAVs at one time.

IDEX 2015 United 40 Naval Variant

IDEX 2015 United 40 Naval Variant

Keeping with previous trends, the company revealed a new naval variant, the block 6, at this year’s IDEX 2015 which took place last month. Developed with Italian manufacturer Finmeccanica and its subsidiary Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei, the platform now takes on the anti-submarine warfare mission fitted with sonobuoys and a single lightweight torpedo mounted center on the fuselage. In conversation with IHS Jane’s, ADCOM said the Block 6 could be used to “lay a barrier of sonobuoys”, while loitering overhead for up to 16 hours with its torpedo. With acoustic processing on-board, data is disseminated with other cooperating UAVs or maritime patrol aircraft.

While the company also suggested a few other concept of operations, it is clear the platform is still early in the testing phase. ADCOM and partners said they will continue working on advancing payload integration while planning a torpedo droptest demonstration for the UAE Navy sometime in 2015.

Despite a good showing at defense exhibitions, it’s still difficult to know how capable the United 40 platform actually is. Nevertheless, the Abu Dhabi-based firm thinks it’s good enough to continue pushing the platform abroad.

In 2013, the Russian military reported the purchase of two Block 5s with a service entry date around 2016. However, that entry date may have been delayed as Russia postponed the tests of the UAV in February last year. Imagery from November 2014 may have been related to the Russian test—though the company hasn’t confirmed. Beyond Russia, Algeria was considering the purchase of the aircraft for its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirement. (In 2014, Algeria was also evaluating the China-built Xianglong).

ADCOM has also offered several United 40 systems to the United Nations for use on humanitarian missions. Selex, a subsidiary of ADCOM partner Finmeccanica, also supports United Nations border surveillance missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the Falco system.

Possibly due to a lack of military sales for its flagship drone, teaming with Finmeccanica could have been a strategic move to follow the partner into a new market segment. In a presentation made at the Berlin Airshow 2014, ADCOM reiterated the use of drones for NGOs engaged in wildlife conservation and governments requiring critical infrastructure monitoring.

Despite the build of block 6, the civil and non-military space may become an important area for ADCOM’s future growth.

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The Potential for Panshih: Taiwan’s Expanding Maritime Role

by Paul Pryce. Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities on both sides of the pond, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces. His current research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

The Panshih is 196 m long and 25.2 m wide and it can carry a crew of up to 165. The ship was built by state-owned Kaohsiung-based shipbuilder CSBC Corporation at a cost of USD130 million.

The Panshih is 196 m long and 25.2 m wide and it can carry a crew of up to 165. The ship was built by state-owned Kaohsiung-based shipbuilder CSBC Corporation at a cost of USD130 million.

Taiwan has long enjoyed a robust maritime force, intended to defend the island nation from threats both real and perceived across the Taiwan Strait. An arrangement under which the United States will deliver four Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates for use by the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) will only serve to further enhance the country’s maritime power. But perhaps the most interesting development for maritime affairs in the Asia-Pacific region so far in 2015 is the delivery of the ROCS Panshih.

With a total displacement of 20,000 tons and a range of almost 15,000 kilometres, the supply ship Panshih will greatly contribute to the ROCN’s expeditionary capabilities, allowing Taiwan to contribute meaningfully to disaster relief or humanitarian operations anywhere in the region. Historically, Taiwan has lacked this capability, fielding only the ROCS Yuen Feng, a troop transport. Although the ROCN has operated another supply ship for some years, ROCS Wu Yi, the Panshih is significantly larger and possesses much more advanced medical facilities. Reportedly, the Panshih is also only the first of its class – a second ship of an identical design is expected for the ROCN in the next few years.

These ships may soon cruise the seas in a Taiwanese effort to replicate the successes of China’s maritime diplomacy. The Peace Ark, a hospital ship in service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), has toured extensively since its commissioning in 2008. For example, the Peace Ark was deployed to assist the Philippines in recovering from Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, and later was an important component of the Chinese participation in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) 2014. Port visits and participation in such multilateral operations enhance China’s “soft power”, whereas observers note that Taiwan has been sidelined for the most part in regional diplomatic affairs. Pursuing a similar theme to China’s charm offensive could be just the remedy to Taiwan’s isolation.

A port of the flight deck on the Panshih.

A port of the flight deck on the Panshih.

Yet there is one catch to the Panshih’s particular design. The vessel boasts some offensive capabilities, including a Phalanx close-in weapons system, a 20mm Gatling gun, short-range Sea Chaparral surface-to-air missiles, several .50 calibre machine guns, and 30mm turrets. In contrast, the Berlin-class auxiliary ships employed by the Germany Navy, and which the Royal Canadian Navy will also soon employ as the Queenston-class, have only four MLG 27mm autocannons for defence. China’s Peace Ark is entirely unarmed. While the Panshih’s armaments grant it operational flexibility, they also undermine the vessel’s capacity to act as a soft power tool.

Perhaps the most ideal role for this vessel in the future will be to join relief operations in unstable environments. Taiwan has not contributed much in this area in previous years, with the ROCN focusing almost entirely on defending the Taiwanese coastline from threats across the strait. But there is one success story: in 2011, Taiwan initiated some participation in the European Union’s Operation Atalanta. This constituted an important contribution to international efforts against piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. But this is the lone case of active engagement by the ROCN in any initiative beyond the Taiwan Strait. The Panshih could grant Taiwan more options in this regard, since the deployment of fully fledged combat vessels to an area like the Gulf of Aden could be viewed by domestic audiences as weakening Taiwan’s coastal defences or otherwise as a misuse of Taiwanese defence resources. A supply ship could be more readily spared so far as the public is concerned.

Lending credence to the idea that the Panshih will be used to support humanitarian operations in failed or failing states, the vessel also has impressive hangar space, capable of storing up to three helicopters. The Taiwanese media has focused on the capacity for the ship to serve as a takeoff and landing platform for anti-submarine helicopters, but it is also certainly possible for the ship to serve as a base for transport helicopters ferrying supplies and specialized personnel to inland locations, while also bringing back patients requiring intensive care at the Panshih’s onboard medical facilities. The ROCN’s 19 Sikorsky S-70C(M) Thunderhawk helicopters offer some possibilities in this regard.

In any case, the ROCN now has in its possession a versatile ship. What remains to be seen are how the ROCN will put it to use in the coming years and to what extent this will reflect Taiwanese foreign policy priorities. With such a sophisticated vessel, it would be a shame for Taiwan to keep it docked as backup for a regional conflict that might never, and hopefully will never, come.

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A Case for A Sustainable U.S. Grand Strategy: Retirement without Disengagement for a Superpower

by Jeong Lee, a freelance writer. This article originally appeared on “The Strategy Bridge” on February, 16th, 2015 and is re-posted by permission.

This blog commentary is based on a policy paper I wrote for the U.S. National Security Policy class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. I am especially indebted to my professor, Dr. David Goldfischer, who encouraged me to explore this theme.


Dr. Richard D. Hooker Jr., Director for Research and Strategic Support, and Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University defines grand strategy as:

[…] the use of power to secure the state […] [which] exists at a level above particular strategies intended to secure particular ends and above the use of military power alone. — R.D. Hooker, Jr, “The Grand Strategy of the United States“, INSS Strategic Monograph, National Defense University, October 2014.

However, the problem with this definition, as Dr. Hal Brands argues, seems to be that grand strategy “is one of the most slippery and widely abused terms in the foreign policy lexicon […][because the term is] often invoked but less often defined.” For this reason, Brands believes that the discussion of grand strategy has become all too often “confused or superficial”.

As if to bear this out, the discussion of U.S. grand strategy by both the neocons such as Robert Kagan and liberals such as David Rothkopf seem to be bereft of proper geostrategic contextualization due to fervent dogmatism, and is out of touch with today’s geopolitical realities. Part of the absence of nuanced contextualization can be understood in light of the fact U.S. foreign policy and its grand strategy are grounded in the ahistoric inclinations of its citizens.

Contrary to Kagan’s belief that the United States “cannot retire” from its superpower status because “America’s world order […][still] needs propping up,” U.S. grand strategy should focus on homeland security. Setting one’s house in order does not necessarily mean isolationism. Rather, it means deftly balancing both hard power and soft power at the disposal of the U.S. It also means adopting the “role of exemplar over that of crusader” to rejuvenate its national strength and to bolster its legitimacy abroad.

Since the Cold War ended, foreign policy and defense mavens have been debating what shape U.S. grand strategy should take. Some scholars such as Eugene Gholz, et al warned of “hefty premiums sap[ping] U.S. prosperity” should the U.S. continue to meddle in the affairs of other nations. Chalmers Johnson, writing a year before 9/11, warned of potential “blowback” which he saw as the “byproduct [of] reservoir of resentment against all Americans […] that can have lethal results.” Still, neoconservative commentators like Robert Kagan and even liberals like David Rothkopf envisioned a world transformed in America’s image with the aid of globalized economy and with the puissant might of the U.S. Armed Forces that would champion the cause of democracy. Even though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have discredited the utility of force as an instrument of forced democracy, many still hold fast to the belief that the United States must continue to provide global leadership because they believe that to refrain from the role as the sole hegemon in the world is to invite chaos both abroad and at home.

Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.

Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.

For instance, Kagan’s 2014 essay in The New Republic entitled “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire” argues that, “[t]he broad acceptance of American power […] created a unique situation in the world.” He goes on to argue that U.S. leadership, “could not conform to a theory because it could not be replicated. It was sui generis.” Throughout the middle part of his essay, Kagan offers his interpretation of how the U.S. rose to become the unipolar hegemon in the latter half of the 20th Century and the early 2000s. Although Kagan rightly concedes that U.S. strategic internationalism meant to secure its geopolitical interests “was not selfless or altruistic”, he continues to emphasize the notion of the United States as the “indispensable nation” destined to preserve the liberal order. To underscore this point, he cites the U.S. intervention in Panama in 1989 and in Somalia in 1993 as examples of benign military interventions whose purpose it was to “defend and extend the liberal world order.”

However, citing such examples overlooks the fact that, more often than not, U.S. interventions in places like Somalia has led to failed states, or even worse, to political and military blowback for the United States whereby military debacles were construed by non-state actors such as Al-Qaidaas evidence of American weakness“. Furthermore, Kagan seems to exhibit symptoms of what the leading international relations scholar Robert Keohane has dubbed the “disease of the strong” when he quotes Dean Acheson who argued that the U.S. grew accustomed to “operat[ing] in a pattern of responsibility which is greater than our own interests”. In short, Kagan’s 2014 essay demonstrates how “[t]he mix of realpolitik and ideological ma[kes] for policy confusion [when it comes to U.S. grand strategy because] at times the threat is instability, at others it is contrary values”.

So Kagan was partly right but mostly wrong. He is right that the supposed willingness and ability to play the role of world police from the latter half of the twentieth century until now had little to do with “the special virtues of the American people”. He may also be right to note that “[t]he presence of American troops acted to remove doubt by potential aggressors that the United States would fight if its allies were attacked”. In short, the world order which we inhabit is rife with ambiguities and contradictions. But Kagan does not seem to understand, when he uses the metaphor of a gardener to describe the supposedly unique role of the United States as guarantor of the global liberal order, that the gardener may eventually burn out, or die from exhaustion. Nor does he seem to understand that a democratic government takes time to mature on its own.

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

Illustration: michaelmucci.com

The question, then, is, what should a sustainable U.S. grand strategy look like? Formulating a strategy that is grounded in pragmatism begins with the recognition of limits of national power — both hard and soft. Even Rothkopf, who urged the United States to, “export the American model” cautioned that the United States should “recognize its limitations […] [because it] cannot assure every outcome”. Although critics such as Tom Engelhardt, and retired Marine Major Peter J. Munson Chalmers Johnson, and Andrew Bacevich caution against using military force to spread U.S. values abroad, they do not mean that the United States should disengage entirely from the world. But rather the new grand strategy should adjust to the emerging strategic environment. This adjustment entails adroitly balancing soft power with hard power so that the U.S. may achieve its geostrategic objectives without relying on military might as its first resort.

To that end, the United States should first withdraw its military presence from both the Middle East and East Asia. As Toby Jones argues in his 2011 piece for The Atlantic, the U.S. military withdrawal from the Middle East may be possible because “protecting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to global markets is far less necessary than it once was” since the world has plenty of oil. While Gholz et. al. claim that “allowing a regional hegemon to seize significant quantities of Gulf oil would constitute a threat to America’s prosperity,” Jones makes the case that prolonged deployment or permanent presence in the Persian Gulf may lead to “the militarization and destabilization” of the Middle East.

Where East Asia is concerned, a continued U.S. military presence may not be necessary because Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are fully capable of defending themselves without U.S. military aid. Although former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argues that South Korea will continue to need U.S. troop presence due to the threats emanating from North Korea, what he and other analysts often overlook is that the existing tension between the two Koreas can be peacefully resolved through diplomatic recognition of North Korea as a sovereign state, so that the United States can foster trade and keep the North Korean ruler accountable to international norms.

This leads to my second recommendation, which is that the United States Armed Forces should reorient their focus towards homeland security rather than towards costly military presence abroad. At a time when the U.S. has withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan and at a time when the U.S. Armed Forces still face drastic budget cuts due to the ongoing sequestration, it makes no sense to maintain more than 1,000 bases around the world.


Third, and perhaps most important, the United States should rely on diplomacy to accommodate its admirers as well as its rivals. In essence, this is what I mean by deftly balancing hard power with soft power. Brzezinski, in his 2012 book, “Strategic Vision“, argues that the United States may avert “global instability” by embracing what he calls “an ambitious transcontinental geopolitical vision” which entails promoting the expansion of the West while balancing the East. Although it is questionable whether such undertaking may “enhance the appeal of the [U.S.] core principles,” there may be some truth to Brzezinski’s argument. First, continued belligerent posturing towards China through aggressive military maneuvers and presence in the Pacific may backfire in that it may provoke China. Even more important, Brzezinski’s argument warrants attention in that it speaks to the potential role of the U.S. as a diplomatic champion and an exemplar. To Brzezinski’s argument, I should add that, in addition to peacefully engaging China and other major powers such as Russia, the U.S. should seek diplomatic solutions to counter nuclear proliferations by rogue state actors such as Iran and North Korea.

Another option is for the United States to bolster its homeland security apparatuses to counter the threat of terrorism at home. While non-state actor groups such as the Taliban, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State/Daesh are opposed to Western values, they do not pose a direct existential threat to the United States because none of these groups possess conventional capabilities commensurate with Western militaries. Moreover, while some argue that it is best to contain terrorist threats abroad to prevent another 9/11, they blithely ignore the fact that terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 stemmed from the failure to anticipate terrorist attacks at home. With an expanded reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces due to force structure changes under sequestration and improved intelligence and surveillance capabilities, the U.S. can monitor and prevent terrorist attacks from within. However, should such measures prove inadequate, the U.S. can contain threats posed by non-state actors through multilateral police action with the cooperation of its allies.

To sum up, U.S.-President Barack Obama perhaps understood it best when he told the graduating U.S. Military Academy cadets last year that “what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions”. The United States should remain and will continue to remain a major power in an increasingly multipolar, and depending on one’s perspective, “chaotic” geostrategic landscape. In the future, the U.S. grand strategy should entail less emphasis on military interventions abroad and more emphasis on homeland security and diplomatic prowess.

A grand strategy that is based on restraint and national interests will lead to fewer wars in distant lands. The fewer wars the United States fights, the more money and lives it will save. Even better, the fewer wars the United States fights, the more likely the global community will appreciate its restraint and sober humility with which it approaches relations with other nations. In the long run, a grand strategy that is grounded in pragmatism and self-awareness will likely benefit both the United States and the global community of which it is a part.

Posted in Armed Forces, History, International, Jeong Lee | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Geopolitical Crisis Continues

by Sid Lukkassen. Lukkassen holds an MA in history and philosophy, is a Ph.D candidate and city councillor in the Netherlands (VVD). In January, he published his book Avondland en Identiteit (Occident and Identity).

In my previous article I argued that in post-World War II Europe, the balance between values and virtues shifted from masculine to feminine. This shift manifests itself geopolitically and is the sum of factors outlined in my book Avondland en Identiteit (Occident and Identity). Nick Ottens continued the discussion by stating that the United States of America had “purposefully kept Europe weak” to prevent a third, European force from rising during the Cold War. Today, “only six European NATO members spend 2 percent of their economic output or more on defense“. Offiziere.ch contributed a translated piece by Hans Bachofner, originally published in 2006, in which he argued that heroic societies, held together by honour and sacrifice, are better at resolving armed conflict than post-heroic societies, which are held together by commercial and juridical structures. “Their governments assert again and again that they never want to endanger the lives of their own soldiers […] Technologically superior weapons replace the readiness to die.”

Le Serment des Horaces

Before we proceed to the point of this article, which concerns a geopolitical essay by Dr. Peter van Ham that discusses the “feminisation of Europe”, I’ll make a note about the “post-heroic society”. This notion strikes us as a postmodern concept stemming from a Europe worn out by “the monstrous sacrifice of mass heroism in World War I, and the misuse of the terms ‘honour’ and ‘sacrifice’ driven by totalitarian regimes in World War II.” (Bachofner). The truth is that this distinction can already be found in Histories by Herodotus [1]. The Medieval scholar Ibn Khaldûn expanded on it in his Muqaddimah, where he claimed civilizations go through different phases – of the pen (legalistic, bureaucratic) and of the sword (might makes right). (“De Muqaddima“, translated by Heleen Koesen and Djûke Poppinga, (Amsterdam 2010) 186-7). The notion of post-heroism thus ties in directly to the civilization cycle (also expressed in Plato’s Politeia, the Bible (Daniel 2:31-35) and the Bhagavad Gita). The recurring pattern is that young nations are centred around builders, founders and heroes – as they age, personal commitment by heroes is replaced by impersonal legalistic systems. Old nations grow wealthy, then decadent and ultimately apathetic. This perceived weakness attracts hungry young predators and the sword once again becomes a guiding principle.

This cycle mirrors the rough contours of what we see today. Van Ham, a researcher at Clingendael, a Dutch think tank concerning diplomacy and international relations, recently published an article in which he argued that the controversial politician Geert Wilders is right on a crucial point. [2] In another essay from December 2008, Van Ham argues that Europe has become a “metrosexual superpower” and he quotes Parag Khanna: “[j]ust as metrosexuals are redefining masculinity, Europe is redefining old notions of power and influence.” (Originally: Parag Khanna, “The Metrosexual Superpower“, Foreign Policy, no. 143 (July/August 2004), 68). “The term ‘metrosexuality’ (which gained currency in the mid-1990s) is based on images of narcissistic young men who adore fashion and accessories, and who are comfortable with their feminine side […] Europe’s lacking warrior spirit and denial of war can largely be blamed on the domestication (or sissification) of EU politics, and the marginalization of force and violence. Europe’s culture no longer honours traditional codes of manhood. Masculinity stands for being in control at all times, being in the driver’s seat. But today […] the feminization of politics has also touched other post-industrial societies.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War: Why Europe Needs it“, Clingendael Diplomacy Papers, no. 19, December 2008, 19).

In May 2011, a crowd gathered outside the White House to celebrate President Obama's announcement that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.

In May 2011, a crowd gathered outside the White House to celebrate President Obama’s announcement that U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden.

Van Ham argues that Europe considers itself a “postmodern, Kantian space“, where ideals such as tolerance, human rights and fighting poverty prevail over realpolitik – humanitarian intentions trump geopolitical consequences. The American crowds cheering over the death of Osama Bin Laden, for instance, would not fit within this self-image. Van Ham quotes Christopher Hill who has, among others, pointed out that the European Union neglects geopolitical considerations. (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 21). For example, “barbaric” enclaves rise up in this post-nationalist world order that necessitate a geopolitical response entailing military intervention. Mafia and fundamentalism collude in failed states to chip away at the postmodern humanitarian space that marks the borders of the European Union. This is a problem, Van Ham notes, because the European project does not inspire sufficient loyalty to draw hard lines in the sand and back these up with military force when crossed or challenged. “Nobody is prepared to die for Brussels”, he writes. (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 23). Threats that are too large are simply shied away from. This brings us back to the aforementioned “intellectual culture of denial” in regards to aggression stemming from jihadist motives.

Bachofner made a point of emphasizing how asymmetric the contemporary “War on Terror” is. The West bombs enemy territories from high above, targeting infrastructure, whereas terrorists often choose their victims randomly – their real objective is to cause fear in those who survive. The “post-heroic” West has to be clean – it has to avoid innocents from getting injured or else approval ratings will plummet. The aim of the fundamentalists, by contrast, is to instil self-censorship through dread. Therefore their attacks have to be as visceral as possible, as demonstrated by the murdering of Theo van Gogh (Netherlands), train and subway bombings (Spain, Britain), London public beheading, Kenya shooting spree, Brussels Jewish museum shooting and recently the attack on Charlie Hebdo (France). The list goes on.

Islamist militants ambushed the Westagte mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 killing more than 50 people and terrorizing the city. Kenyan forces tried to drive the militants out of the mall and save remaining hostages. Somalia's Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Kenya since 1998.

Islamist militants ambushed the Westagte mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2013 killing more than 50 people and terrorizing the city. Kenyan forces tried to drive the militants out of the mall and save remaining hostages. Somalia’s Al Shabab claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in Kenya since 1998.

A good contemporary example is the Islamic State (IS) beheading two Japanese journalists and burning a Jordanian pilot alive, captured on video and accompanied by recitals of Quran verses. Islam defines the world in two houses: dar al-harb (house of war) and dar al-islam (house of peace). Peace is understood as political rule based on Sharia and the Quran, which expresses the immutable will of Allah and therefore provides peace. (Henk Driessen (ed.), “In het huis van de islam“, Nijmegen/Amsterdam 1997, 116-118). Manmade rules are susceptible to interpretation, are changeable, and therefore lead to conflict. Expanding the dar al-islam is a process that spans centuries, making temporary treatises (dar al-ahd or dar al-sulh) with Christian or secular nations inevitable. The IS embodies an aggressive strain of this overarching expansion. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has mentioned Rome as foreseeable target of conquest, yet Italian authorities hope that this is a symbolic reference to his larger global goal. (Christopher Livesay, “Rome Is Not Intimidated by ISIS Threats to Conquer it for the Caliphate“, Vice News, 11.07.2014). It means the IS obtains victory once Dar al-islam overlaps all political regimes on earth.

The West, by contrast, has to obtain a victory inside a defined territory within a short time span due to the high costs of mobilization. The citizen is not an active participant but “consumes” the war through media. If the war lasts too long, the weary audience at home will alter their votes in future elections. This replaces substantive victories with PR victories: the Western soldier fights a “War on Terror” without defined victory conditions.

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Musa, a 25-year-old Kurdish marksman, stands atop a building as he looks at the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on January 30, 2015 (Photo: Bulent Kilic).

Of course there are also the armed conflicts that are part civil war, part foreign intervention by larger geopolitical players. This we see concretely in Ukraine. These conflicts remain tied to ethnic and national identities, whereas the conflict with the IS centres around colliding religious-ideological world outlooks. A conflict with Russia is territorial and can, in theory, be settled. The conflict with the IS, however, is an existential conflict that fundamentally cannot be settled (at best there can be temporary ceasefires). The conflict cannot be resolved in earthly trades of resources, lives and territories because the conflict is metaphysical. We have, in other words, a resurgence of Carl Schmitt’s “Feind”. The West is mentally unprepared for this confrontation because it sees “the enemy” in economic terms – as a “competitor” that can be bluffed, reasoned with, and ultimately bargained down. (Carl Schmitt, “Der Begriff des politischen“, Berlin 1987, 37f).

In his 2008 article, Van Ham urged Europe into “accepting a legitimate role of war to annihilate (or convert) failed states, and terrorist ‘undecidables’, whose very existence cannot be tolerated […] The European Union will (have to) realize that (its) territory is no longer the basis of (its) power; nor is it a sufficient guarantee of (its) security. The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic, while unsustainable.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 28). Van Ham concluded by making a case for “reviving and renewing Realism inside the European Union, [which] basically asks to strengthen Europe’s masculine side, to the detriment of its feminist persona. Feminist scholars’ classically ‘feminist’ agenda emasculates the armed forces’ warrior ethic.” (Peter van Ham, “The Power of War”, 19-20; see also: Mona Charen, “Feminist Agenda Emasculates the Armed Forces’ Warrior Ethic”, Insight on the News, vol. 16, no. 17, 08.05.2000, 48).

The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic.

The prospect of a ‘Fortress Europe’ is unrealistic.

That Europe strays far from this prescribed role becomes apparent by reading any Dutch mainstream newspaper (De Telegraaf, 06.02.2015, 5). An issue opens with a grand headliner, “Barbarians hit our F-16’s” and follows up with a grandiose statement by General Tom Middendorp that “we are increasingly determined to destroy the IS infrastructure” (De Telegraaf, 06.02.2015, 19). Another article on the same page expresses the general’s concern about military cuts in Belgium. If the country does not buy new JSF-fighters and new M-frigates, the Dutch military would have to “carry the weight of Belgium” – this would jeopardize cooperation between the two countries. On another page, the Minister of Defence, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, states that the Netherlands is working to spearhead a NATO intervention force to counter any Russian aggression. On the same page, in another article, she states that she does not wish to arm the Ukrainian national forces because “this could provoke Moscow” – a Moscow that already arms a fighting militia. These mixed signals imply that on the one hand the Netherlands pursues an active policy of international military involvement; on the other hand the means to actually carry out such a policy are extremely limited. This results in the aforementioned “PR-victories”. Hence, Hennis states that “most of the European ministers emphasize that the Ukrainian forces should be provided with only non-lethal equipment”.

Van Ham found that “Fortress Europe” is not a feasible option – he emphasized that hostile cells could be anywhere, and that this necessitates an assertive global military attitude. How would Europe give shape to this today? With Russia in Ukraine, the IS preparing to storm the gates of Rome, and increasingly aggressive, anti-Western rhetoric by the president of Turkey? (“Erdogan: West doesn’t like Muslims, wants them dead”, The Times of Israel, 29.11.2014). While the Asia-Pacific conflict plays in the background? Faced with all this, to “batter down the hatches” seems the most realistic strategy. This means a martial mentality, including a willingness to retaliate, without getting sucked into endless field campaigns on foreign soil that have to be framed as “build up missions” to pass Parliament. [3]

[1]”For, just as Persia had once been a hard culture which was able to dominate its soft eastern neighbours, and thus become rich and powerful, so the Greeks (particularly the Athenians) had become rich and powerful as a consequence of their victory over the Persians. Herodotus demonstrates the Persian trajectory from hard to soft culture, as a result of their control over the resources of their softer subjects, and thus explains their descent from conqueror to conquered.” Sara Forsdyke, “Herodotus, political history and political thought” in Carolyn Dewald / John Marincola (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge New York 2006), 224-241.
[2] “Wilders warns us for the threat of Islamic terrorism, and while terrorists are committing murders with Quran in hand, progressive parties continue to look away. It is easier to deny and twist facts, and to frame his voters as ignorant and dangerous.” Peter Olsthoorn, “Clingendael: ‘Links-liberalen leggen denkverbod op inzake islam’“, The Post, 26.02.2015.
[3] “In a heated debate that continued into the early morning hours, a slim majority of MPs voted for the minority government’s proposal to send 545 men and women to Afghanistan until 2014 [..] Notably, it swayed the liberal greens, GroenLinks with 10 seats, by agreeing to seek a written guarantee from Kabul that police trained by the Dutch would not be used in any military action.” (“Dutch MPs endorse Afghan police training mission“, AFP, 28.01.2011).

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DOK: Ukraina – Tagebuch aus einem zerrissenen Land

Am Donnerstag, 19. Februar 2015 strahlte das Schweizer Fernsehen in ihrer Serie DOK diese interessante Dokumentation von Christof Franzen aus. Er war mit seiner Crew sowohl an den Frontabschnitten im Donbas wie auch in den idyllisch anmutenden Bauerndörfern der Westukraine und im Kiewer Machtzentrum. Die Konzentration auf einige wenige Akteure — einen nationalistischen Freiwilligen-Kämpfer, eine junge pro-russische Aktivistin und einen Familienvater, der in der Masse von Propaganda und Lügen nach der Wahrheit sucht — ermöglicht einen tiefen Einblick in den ukrainischen Alltag.

Majdan im Februar 2014

Majdan im Februar 2014

Am Sendetag des Films jährt sich der Höhepunkt der ukrainischen “Euromaidan”-Revolution, als Polizeieinheiten versuchten den Majdan Nesaleschnosti zu räumen. Bei der Eskalation der Kämpfe zwischen pro-europäischen, teils auch nationalistischen Ukrainern und den Sicherheitskräften des korrupten Präsidenten Wiktor Janukowitsch kamen damals über hundert Menschen ums Leben. Es war der vermeintliche Sieg der vom Westen unterstützen Opposition. Was im Siegestaumel unterging: im Osten des Landes, vor allem in der Donbas-Region, sahen viele Menschen in all dem nicht eine gerechte Revolution, sondern einen verfassungswidrigen Umsturz.

Wohl kaum Jemand rechnete mit der heftigen Reaktion des russischen Präsidenten Wladimir Putin. Dieser liess kurz danach die ukrainische Halbinsel Krim besetzen und heizte im Frühling 2014 den Konflikt in der Ostukraine an – mit einer Medienpropaganda, aber wohl auch mit Geld, Waffen und Kämpfern. Das Resultat ist ein bewaffneter innerukrainischer Konflikt aber auch ein unerklärter Krieg zwischen der Ukraine und Russland, mit weit über 5’000 Toten und Hunderttausenden von Vertriebenen.

Der Film “Ukraina” ist ein Film über Menschen, die sich in dieser einmaligen und schwierigen Situation im Lande zurechtfinden müssen. Es ist ein Zeugnis der tiefen Risse, die in der Ukraine entstehen, aber auch darüber, dass ein solch blutiger Konflikt nie hätte beginnen müssen. Denn die Ukraine wäre eigentlich vor einer erfolgreichen, marktwirtschaftlichen und demokratischen Entwicklung bereit gewesen. Viele Menschen im Land haben genug von der Korruption, der Herrschaft der Oligarchen und der Ungerechtigkeit.

Das Filmteam begleitet Oleksij aus der Stadt Nowowolynsk, im äussersten Westen der Ukraine, nahe der polnischen Grenze. Der Nationalist, Kleinunternehmer und Vater von zwei Töchtern stand bis zum Schluss auf dem Majdan, ein Freund von ihm starb dort im Kugelhagel. Seither kämpft Oleksij in verschiedenen Freiwilligenbataillonen in der Ostukraine. Er kehrt aber immer wieder ins zivile Leben zurück – unter anderem war er Kandidat für die Parlamentswahlen im Oktober. Oleksij stellt sich – wie Millionen ukrainischer Männer und Frauen – immer wieder die Frage: in den Krieg ziehen oder daheim bei Familie und Arbeit bleiben?

Anastasia ist eine alleinerziehende Mutter in Donezk. Nach dem Beginn des Konfliktes im Frühling hat sie – im Interesse ihres sechsjährigen Sohnes – die umkämpfte Stadt verlassen. Auf der Suche nach einem stabileren Leben war sie zuerst in Russland und danach in der ukrainisch kontrollierten Stadt Charkow – erfolglos. Inzwischen ist sie wieder in Donezk und arbeitet aktiv daran mit, der neuen “Volksrepublik Donezk” – in Kiew als Terrororganisation gebrandmarkt – zum Durchbruch zu verhelfen. Ist das die richtige Wahl für sie und ihren Sohn?

Auch Wladimir, ein junger Bauarbeiter und Familienvater, wohnt in der ostukrainischen Donbas-Region. Seine Familie schwebt in Lebensgefahr, weil sein Haus neben einer Basis der pro-russischen Separatisten liegt. Mehrmals sind Artilleriegeschosse in der Nähe seines Hauses explodiert. Wladimir bringt seine Familie in Sicherheit und sucht nach einer sicheren Zukunft für alle. Er ist ein kritischer Bürger und misstraut der Propaganda von beiden Seiten.

‘DOK': Ukraina – Tagebuch aus einem zerrissenen Land“, Schweizer Fernsehen, 19.02.2015.

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Cartoon of the month: (T)error(ism)

Terrorism - Tomas

• • •

After the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by the terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS), who had been seized in December and January from Libya’s eastern town of Sirte, Egypt has retaliated with airstrikes in Libya beginning of this week (see: Erin Cunningham and Heba Habib, “Egypt bombs Islamic State targets in Libya after beheading video“, The Washington Post, 16.02.2015). So far, the US-airstrikes on IS targets in Iraq and Syria produced only – if at all – minor signs of progress. Even if the airstrikes are one of the necessary instruments against IS, there have additional measures to be taken. To exclusively rely on airstrikes could turn out as an strategic error in the long run.

In this regard, Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch wrote:

Six months and 16,000 airstrikes into the campaign to defeat the Islamic State, with less than 1% of the territory it held in Iraq recovered, an honest accounting leads to only one conclusion: The U.S.-led strategy is failing. With the effort focused almost exclusively on a military defeat of the armed group, also known as ISIS, neither the Iraqi government nor its anti-ISIS allies – Iran included – have seriously addressed the reforms and accountability for abuses that could earn back the support of Iraq’s Sunni population. The fragmentation of Iraq’s fighting forces into unaccountable sectarian militias responsible for horrific abuses against Iraqi civilians is part of Iraq’s slide into a broken state that no amount of foreign aid and military intervention will be likely to put back together. — Sarah Leah Whitson, “Why the Fight Against ISIS is Failing“, Human Rights Watch, 18.02.2015.

• • •

This cartoon was drawn by Tomas, a self-taught cartoonist from Rome. His cartoons range from computer graphics to traditional ink drawings, and have appeared in Italian newspapers, as well as in various sites around the Internet, including his blog which contains an archive of all cartoons realized from 2009.

Posted in Cartoon, Egypt, English, Iraq, Libya, Security Policy, Syria, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mehr Mut zum Risiko – Für eine resolutere Ukraine-Strategie

Von Marcus Seyfarth. Marcus ist Rechtsreferendar am Kammergericht Berlin und Mitgründer der Facebook-Gruppe “Sicherheitspolitik“.

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, rebels seized most of the town and took several Ukrainian soldiers captive. In the days preceding their victory, photographer Max Avdeev embedded with the First Slavyansk Brigade of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the nearby town of Logvinove. The rebels had just seized the town, cutting Debaltseve off from the last road leading to Ukrainian territory. The soldiers were mostly local volunteers, though their commanding officers were Russian — as were the men who delivered them tanks and artillery. As the deadline for a new cease-fire deal came and went overnight on Sunday, the rebels kept on shelling Debaltseve (Photo: Max Avdeev).

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, rebels seized most of the town and took several Ukrainian soldiers captive. In the days preceding their victory, photographer Max Avdeev embedded with the First Slavyansk Brigade of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the nearby town of Logvinove. The rebels had just seized the town, cutting Debaltseve off from the last road leading to Ukrainian territory. The soldiers were mostly local volunteers, though their commanding officers were Russian — as were the men who delivered them tanks and artillery. As the deadline for a new cease-fire deal came and went overnight on Sunday, the rebels kept on shelling Debaltseve (Photo: Max Avdeev).

In das seit Tagen umkämpfte Debalzewe sind die Separatisten trotz bestehender “Waffenruhe” nach eigenen Angaben gestern eingerückt, meldete die Tagesschau. Nach der Minsker Vereinbarung sollte ebenso am Dienstag der Rückzug der schweren Waffen von der Frontlinie beginnen. Die ukrainische Armee erklärte jedoch, sie wolle sie vorerst nicht zurückziehen. Die Regierung behauptet, es habe seitens der Separatisten binnen 24 Stunden 112 Angriffe gegeben, bei denen fünf Soldaten getötet und 25 weitere verletzt worden seien. Die Aufständischen warfen dem Militär ihrerseits Dutzende Verstöße gegen die Feuerpause vor. Separatistenführer Eduard Bassurin stellte klar, die Geschütze würden erst abgezogen, wenn die Feuerpause halte. Die in Minsk II vereinbarte Waffenruhe ist damit nach nur wenigen Tagen gescheitert. Der Umstand sollte ein Schlüsselmoment dafür sein, die gegenwärtige Ukraine-Strategie grundlegend zu überdenken.

Im Rahmen der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz 2015 erläuterte die deutsche Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel zuletzt ihre Sicht auf den Ukraine-Konflikt. Bei der Beantwortung der Fragen aus dem Publikum hatte sie auf den Kalten Krieg Bezug genommen, den sie hinter dem Eisernen Vorhang erlebte. Damals habe niemand geglaubt, dass den Bürgern der DDR mit Waffengewalt zu einem Leben in Freiheit verholfen werden kann. Als die Mauer gebaut wurde, seien die USA nicht in den Krieg gezogen. Stattdessen hätten sie ein langes Durchhaltevermögen bewiesen. “Dass die USA die Stange hielten, hat dazu geführt, dass ich heute hier sitze”, sagte Merkel.

Im Westen haben viele den Eindruck, die Ukraine-Konflikt müsse schnell gelöst werden. Merkel hält ihre Erfahrung dagegen, dass demokratische Systeme langfristig überlegen sind. So, wie die DDR irgendwann zusammenbrach, weil neben ihr die demokratische BRD florierte, soll es auch den Volksrepubliken in der Ostukraine ergehen. Das kann Jahrzehnte dauern. Von einer schnellen Lösung des Konfliktes hält sie nichts: “Ich glaube einfach, dass militärisches Engagement zu mehr Opfern führen wird, aber nicht dazu, dass Putin besiegt wird”, sagte sie. “Das Problem ist, dass ich mir keine Situation vorstellen kann, in der eine verbesserte Ausrüstung der ukrainische Armee dazu führt, dass Präsident Putin so beeindruckt ist, dass er glaubt, militärisch zu verlieren”, erklärte sie.

Diese Sicht mag Europa vor einem militärischen Konflikt mit Russland bewahren. Ganz Europa? Nein, in der Ukraine würden weiter russische Panzer rollen. Wenn schon in historischen Analogien gesprochen wird, so entwickelt sich der Donbass eher zu einem Elsass-Lothringen — einem Zankapfel zwischen der Ukraine und Russland — als zu einer DDR. Der Westen würde seine Glaubwürdigkeit verspielen für seine Werte einzustehen, wie der Achtung des internationalen Rechts und der Ächtung imperialer Politik — aber immerhin würde kein Krieg mit Russland geführt. Man möchte meinen, dass die derzeitige Strategie des Westens lautet: “Um keinen Preis einen Krieg mit Russland riskieren!”.

Würde das auch für eine Invasion Russlands ins Baltikum gelten? Hier griffe die Einstandspflicht der NATO und ist somit anders zu bewerten, aber die Abkehr von allem Militärischen scheint es schwer glaubhaft zu machen, dass der Westen große Lust dazu hätte einen Krieg für “die paar Zwergstaaten” zu führen. Zumal es um die Einsatzbereitschaft der Armeen Europas nach einer jahrzehntelangen Abrüstung nicht zum Besten steht — im Ernstfall besäßen nur die Amerikaner die militärischen Mittel. Doch der Preis wäre ungleich höher: Der Wesenskern der NATO wäre zerstört, die Allianz zerbrochen, der NATO-Vertrag nur noch ein geduldiges Stück Papier ohne Wert.

Vor diesem drohenden Zukunftsszenario irrt Merkel mit ihrer Sicht, dass eine verbesserte Ausrüstung der ukrainischen Armee nicht dazu führen würde, Putin dazu zu bringen den Konflikt zu beenden. Denn wie die Erfahrung der Sowjets in Afghanistan gezeigt hatte, werden wohl auch von Russland horrende Verluste nicht über Jahre duldsam hingenommen werden können. Die Strategie muss es also sein, erstens den Konflikt eingedämmt zu halten, zweitens zu verhindern, dass Putin die ganze Ukraine erobert und drittens die militärischen und ökonomischen Verluste Russlands zu maximieren, um so früh wie möglich die Russen zu einer Aufgabe ihres Expansionskurses zu bringen. Hierzu ist einzig die ukrainische Armee derzeit berufen den militärischen Part zu übernehmen, ohne einen offenen militärischen Konflikt mit dem Westen zu riskieren. Es besteht also durchaus ein Interesse die ukrainischen Truppen bestmöglich auszustatten und auszubilden, um diese Ziele zu erreichen.

Die Befürchtungen des Westens vor einem militärischen Großkonflikt mit Russland dürfen nicht den Blick auf die militärische Komponente dieser Gleichung verstellen. Auch wenn der russische Präsident schwer zu deuten ist, dürfte die Prämisse als gesichert anzunehmen sein, dass auch Russland keinen Krieg mit der NATO zu führen gewillt ist. Insofern ist auch Putin gehalten den militärischen Konflikt so weit zu kontrollieren und eingedämmt zu halten, um nicht die NATO offen in den Konflikt zu ziehen.

Dies öffnet den Weg für die Lieferung von Verteidigungswaffen, wie sie der ukrainische Präsident Petro Poroschenko auf der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz 2015 gefordert hat und wie jüngst auch in den USA immer intensiver darüber nachgedacht wird. Mitnichten würde Putin die NATO angreifen für ein paar gelieferte Radaranlagen, oder Luft- und Panzerabwehrwaffen.

Deshalb: Die russischen Muskelspiele dürfen die westlichen Regierungen nicht in Schockstarre verfallen lassen. Träten diese geschlossen mit mehr Mut und Entschlossenheit auf, ließe es Putin keinen Raum für politische Manöver den Westen auseinander zu dividieren. Die USA einerseits und das Tandem aus Frankreich und Deutschland andererseits präsentieren hier derzeit eine offene Flanke, in die Moskau nur zu gerne stößt. Den Amerikanern wird die eigenen interventionistischen Verfehlungen der Vergangenheit vorgehalten und den Europäern wird Angst vor dem Verlust des Friedens und der Wirtschafts- und Handelsbeziehungen gemacht.

Die derzeitige Strategie scheitert, weil sie den Westen entzweit und den imperialen Gelüsten Russlands kein mit glaubwürdigem Droh- und Schadpotential ausgestattetes militärisches Gegengewicht entgegensetzt und in Moskau als Politik der Schwäche ausgelegt wird. Es wird kein Risiko akzeptiert und Schritte werden unterlassen, die bereits provokant für einen Einstieg in einen militärischen Konflikt gehalten werden könnten. Der Westen entsagt sich damit einem Instrument, um auf die im Kreml noch einzig verbliebene Größe einzuwirken, die – so traurig dies ist – einen Ausschlag für einen Politikwechsel geben könnte: Den Verlusten an Soldaten und Material. Wenn dies die einzige Kenngröße ist, die Moskau zum Einlenken bringt, dürfen wir nicht länger davor zurückschrecken hierauf einzuwirken, um dafür zu sorgen, dass der Preis für ein weiteres russisches Militärengagement zu teuer wird.

Angesichts der realen Bedrohung der europäischen Friedensordnung sind die NATO-Staaten gut damit beraten die in Wales 2014 getroffene Vereinbarung einzuhalten mehr für die Verteidigung auszugeben und damit der alten Weisheit si vis pacem para bellum (“Wenn du den Frieden willst, bereite den Krieg vor”) zu folgen. Die Ukraine verdient in ihrem Kampf für die Freiheit und Selbstbestimmung nicht bloß unser Mitgefühl, sondern auch weitere handfeste Unterstützung, die auch die Lieferung von Defensivwaffen beinhaltet. Als Führungsmacht kommt hierbei den USA eine Schlüsselrolle zu, aber auch wir Europäer sind gefordert unseren Beitrag hierzu zu leisten.

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Personal Theories of Power: Sea Power

by Matthew Hipple. He is an active duty officer in the United States Navy and the Director for Online Content at the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), host of the Sea Control podcast, and a writer for USNI’s Proceedings, War on the Rocks, and other forums. While his opinions may not reflect those of the United States Navy, Department of Defense, or US Government, he wishes they did.

This article is part of the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint Bridge-CIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

Airmen prepare to load a Mark 60 CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) anti-submarine mine onto a B-52G Stratofortress. US NavyAirmen prepare to load a Mark 60 CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) anti-submarine mine onto a B-52G Stratofortress (Source: US Navy).

Airmen prepare to load a Mark 60 CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) anti-submarine mine onto a B-52G Stratofortress. US NavyAirmen prepare to load a Mark 60 CAPTOR (encapsulated torpedo) anti-submarine mine onto a B-52G Stratofortress (Source: US Navy).

Air and land power leave monuments to teach us of their authority: from the House of Commons’ bomb-scorched archway to the nation-wide wreckage of the Syrian Civil War. Sea power’s traces are washed away by its namesake — no rubble marking the battle of USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia nor shattered remains of the convoys from the Battle of the Atlantic. The power with which the sea consumes is the same power with which sea power is imbued. Sea power’s force, persistence, and fluidity — the vast opportunities afforded by the sea — create three properties: the gravitational, phantasmal, and kinetic manifestations of its power.

The Fundamental Nature of Sea Power
Sea power is the physical or influencing power projected by independent mobile platforms within a sea. Like the vast waters of the deep oceans, sea power does not “flow” from a source like air power would, nor does it need to “settle” as land power does. The sea is a large and open commons in which a platform can achieve mobile-and-independent semi-permanence. Being “mobile” gets to the core of sea power; it’s an ability to maneuver a semi-permanent threat at sea or anywhere near or touching the sea. Sea power provides a unique mid-point between persistence and mobility.

Ordnance merely aimed or fired towards the sea is not sea power. Land-based aircraft dropping sea-mines is not sea power, just as naval gunnery on land targets is not land power, nor flying artillery shells air power. Land, sea, and air power can all be used to combat each other; their powers are not restricted to effects within or through their own medium. Our types of power are the spectrum of capability afforded by nature of one’s presence within a medium.

Sea Power’s Gravity: An Inescapable Weight
Adversarial resources are strongly drawn into defense against sea power’s mobility and potency; in this manner, sea power’s weight, or “gravity”, holds down adversarial actions. Even a weak fleet huddled in port can generate sea power, forcing the enemy to pull resources away from more productive tasks to hold down an adversary’s most mobile threat — it’s fleet.

Take the Spanish-American War, for instance. The Americans had an abiding fear of the mere existence of Spanish sea power and the possibility that it would descend without notice on their coastline, shelling cities and port facilities. Though the Spanish fleet was ultimately wasted in a force-on-force fight, strategists have historically referred to a standing fleet whose purpose is to leverage mere threat as “fleet in being”. Rather than winning through firepower, an in-port “fleet in being” has potent effect on even far-away nations by the potential of their sure potential.

Today it is easier to imagine a mobile “capability in being”, rather than a stationary “fleet in being”. This also leverages the advantages afforded by the sea. The might of this “capability in being” has been illustrated in the past by Allied sea power’s forcing the Nazi’s into building the failed “Atlantic Wall“.

In World War II, sea power afforded the Allies significant advantage, while the Reich’s land power was forced up against the coast to guard every inch of accessible shore of the Atlantic Wall. The Atlantic Wall stretched for hundreds of miles, covering every inch of Reich-held coastline. The scale of preparations and their drain on Nazi resources was enormous, but deemed necessary due to the threat of allied sea power’s mobile capability to penetrate of the continent.

The gravity weighs not only on an adversary’s defenses, but holds down an adversary’s desire to project power. Contrast the case of Taiwan to that of the South China Sea. American sea power has been a guarantor of unimpeded passage in the Pacific since the end of World War II. Taiwan’s existence reflects both the potential and the potency of American sea power, as was demonstrated in the 1996 crisis. However, China’s growing sea power creates space for it to unilaterally declare control of new areas in the South China Sea through “salami-slicing“, despite its neighbors’ protests.

Ultimately, sea power is tangible. Its destructive capability is only matched by its potential influence. Sufficient sea power, even hundreds of miles away, has enough gravity to hold down or absorb the resources of the mightiest land or air power. While the adversary of sea power must guard every crack in his armor, a sea power is at liberty to bide time and seek an asymmetry.

The Phantom of Sea Power: Pervasive Uncertainty
Sea power’s gravity is complemented by the obfuscation and fluidity allowed by the sea. Armies leave a trail — they transit urban areas, gather supplies from the land, and generally reside where we do. The sea is far more secretive about its residents. Like silent undercurrents, sea power can be hidden from observers, summoning fearful phantoms.

Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728; Source: US Navy).

Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728; Source: US Navy).

The best modern example of the sea power phantom is the submarine at the 1916 Battle of Jutland. The mightiest fleet on earth could not bring itself to destroy the German fleet for fear of lurking U-boats. This example of sea-denial highlights a greater return than the expenditure of any ordnance.

Today, submarines have become greater tools for generating uncertainty. The submarine’s invisible presence places an adversary under threat of destruction by Tomahawk missile or direct action by inserted special operations forces. Further threat might be generated by the uncertainty of an un-located fleet or the aircraft that could come from anywhere deep enough for a carrier. Sea power has the unique ability to veil-and-move large amounts of force, leveraging fear of devastating capability hidden by the surface or the horizon.

Sea Power’s Kinetics: When Opportunity Knocks
The gravity and phantom of Sea Power is summoned by a credible threat. History speaks for sea power: the British Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, the Russo-Japanese War, Pearl Harbor, German unrestricted warfare, British logistics in World War II, Island Hopping, D-Day, and modern South China Sea bumper boats. In the interest of brevity, we will split sea power’s kinetic abilities into two categories: logistics and violence.

Sea Power’s logistical ability is often the forgotten part of sea power. A British World War II poster highlights this best. “Britain’s Sea Power is Yours” consists not only of a fleet of warships, but an entire horizon of commercial and military supply vessels. The ability to execute and secure seaborne logistics and to use and defend access to the global commons is potent power indeed. The effects of sea power on Malta, from its seizure by Britain during the Napoleonic Wars to its stubborn survival against the mightiest air force in Europe during World War II, serves as a testament to the subtle potency of the physical and logistical components of sea power. This flexible logistics train can either build an offensive opportunity or sustain a force until such opportunity arises.


The purely destructive capacity of sea power has indirectly already been described. Gravity becomes matter, the Allied fleet putting the wedge’s thin edge to the Atlantic Wall. The force feared by the Nazis came to fruition on D-Day. The phantom materializes, as experienced by Allied convoys facing wolf packs in World War II. It starts with the ability to find the point at which the thin end of the massive wedge can be applied; mobile forces deploying their feelers across the open commons. The American dance-and-smash across the Pacific is the best example, as Nimitz “island hopped” around Japanese defenses and two fleets fought for the first time without even seeing one another. Sea power allows forces a degree of sustainability of land forces to wait out an enemy while carrying along the independent payload with a degree of mobility of air power to respond in time to the development of that opportunity.

Sea Power: The Power of Opportunity
When we say “sea” we are using a placeholder for the large-and-open commons in which a platform can achieve mobile-and-independent semi-permanence. We discuss space power, but ships in space could eventually meld into a future sea power narrative. In World War I, one could argue that Zeppelins carrying aircraft could have joined a sea power concept. Rather than limiting oneself to the conventional “sea”, consider where humans have instinctively decided they can put “ships” from the type of freedom and opportunity the medium affords.

Sea power may have neither the total enduring strength of land power nor the mobility of air power — but it has a strategically potent degree of both. This affords it a unique gravity, an ability to generate fear, and a physical footprint unique from other powers. It finds, creates, and exploits opportunities better than any other type. It creates opportunity and suppresses those of adversaries by virtue of its physical capability or its influence upon enemy action. Sea power is the power of opportunity.


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Maritime Piracy – A Global Issue

In January 2015, CIMSEC announced a High School Scholarship Essay Contest. This article by Steel Templin won the first prize in the contest. Steel is a senior from South Lake High School in Groveland, Florida. He is active in Key Club, Student Government, and National Honor Society, and holds leadership positions in each. In addition to school clubs, he is a varsity football player and varsity crew member. Steel hopes to attend and row at either the Naval Academy, Cornell, or Georgia Tech and study nuclear or aerospace engineering. Additionally, after college Steel plans to serve in the military or one of the US security agencies.


The nations of Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore all share a unique strength. Despite being third world countries and overall economically weak, they have strength in their geographic position; each are located on crucial waterways. These waterways consist of some of the most heavily traveled commercial shipping routes in the world. In terms of crude oil alone, the Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia has an estimated 15 million barrels a day, while the Strait of Hormuz that links the Arabian Gulf to the Indian Ocean has an even larger amount of oil cargo, estimated at 17 million barrels per day (Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “World Oil Transit Chokepoints Critical to Global Energy Security“, 1 December 2014).

These numbers are increasing exponentially every year as the global economy grows and becomes even more interconnected. Yet, despite their critical importance, these sea lanes are among the greatest hotspots for modern­day piracy; a “movement” that costs the commercial shipping industry more than 16 billion dollars each year (cf.: Teo Kermeliotis, “Somali Pirates Cost Global Economy ‘$18 Billion a Year’“, CNN, 12 April 2013).

Maritime piracy is a global issue, and in these two regions, there is a trio of factors which have catalyzed the problem; weak economic opportunities for the local populations, a lack of security/enforcement by officials, and the geographic locations all provide ample opportunity for piracy. All of these factors are pretty apparent, and if you eliminate any of these three, you will see piracy decrease tremendously; the result is improved safety, perception, and ultimately, the profitability of the shipping industry.

The solution for the first decade of the 21st century has been to increase security. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand have joined together to eliminate piracy in Southeast Asia and create safer shipping lanes. In the Red Sea, along the coast of Africa, and off the Arabian peninsula, western countries have taken the initiative in eliminating piracy through the creation of the combined Maritime Forces; a collaboration of 26 countries and three task forces; CTF­-150 with Maritime Security & Counter­terrorism, CTF-­151 with Counter-piracy, and CTF-152 with Persian Gulf Security Cooperation. Due to these efforts, attacks from piracy are at a record low and the seas are safer.

Piracy is a cyclical event that features both periods of outbreaks and minimal incidents. Currently, maritime piracy is under control, however it’s only a matter of time until the next wave of attacks. Following uneventful years, governments and shipping companies will become complacent due to this lack of incidents; they will assess the security threat and adjust their budgets. As companies and governments downsize their security investments, they allow the reinstatement of the one factor that they had eliminated; lack of law enforcement. As a result, pirate attacks will once again revamp.


In order to prevent another wave of attacks, a solution must be selected from a multitude of options. The first such solution would be the proven and traditional method of continued security forces/measures in high-risk locations. However, aside from being expensive, it is not permanent and places the burden of responsibility on Western governments. A spinoff of this idea, and an emerging method, is to place this burden on the shipping companies themselves and have them invest in their own security measures. This capitalistic approach expands the market for private security firms. However, in pursuit of profits, shipping companies might try to cut corners. This would allow for increased attacks, which almost always escalate into hostage situations that have to be dealt with through military intervention.

Taking a more permanent approach to fixing the problem is to address a different factor: poor economic conditions. This could be done through direct investment into a region’s economic development or into developing local security forces. To take the direct investment approach would be a long-term approach that would benefit the country overall. Developing local security forces, for example matching dollar for dollar, would be an intermediate solution that would both create economic opportunity while placing the burden of security on local governments. This second approach would be arguably the best in countries such as Indonesia and Singapore because they are already investing in securing their waterways. However, neither of these approaches are applicable in countries with corrupt or unstable governments, particularly Somalia where there’s no central government and various Warlords are in control.

The most unique approach to piracy would be unmanned or drone ships. As the name implies, they would operate similar to U.S. military drones where a controller sits in a building thousands of miles away, while a satellite link provides the controller with the ability to control the craft while receiving input from visual and other sensors. This is a newly emerging concept; in February of 2014, Rolls Royce announced they are developing drone cargo ships, and in November of 2014, Space X unveiled a drone barge for their reusable rocket program. In terms of freighting, the benefits range from better energy efficiency to lower cost due to the lack of a crew.

Drone ships are not pirate proof; they could still be hypothetically hijacked depending on the design of the ships. An example would be that if the engine systems were not secured/contained enough, the vessels propulsion could be halted. The reason drone ships would be so effective against piracy is they eliminate the worst situation for security forces to combat; hostage situations.

During the exercise "Cutlass Express 2015", US and Canadian naval boarding specialists trained Kenyan, Mauritian and Ugandan boarding teams in visit, boarding, search and seizures techniques (Source: Combined Maritime Forces).

During the exercise “Cutlass Express 2015″, US and Canadian naval boarding specialists trained Kenyan, Mauritian and Ugandan boarding teams in visit, boarding, search and seizures techniques (Source: Combined Maritime Forces).

The creation of drone ships are host to numerous other difficulties; as with any form of creative destruction that causes structural unemployment, the idea will be, and already is opposed by many who make their livelihood aboard ships. Additionally, unmanned ships are currently illegal under international conventions that set minimum crew requirements. Even if that hurdle was to be overcome, then regulations would still have to be created for the new ships.

So which of the options would be the most effective? A combination of all the different methods would probably be the best solution in both the short and long run. No matter what solution is best, governments and companies need to choose a method and instate it in the coming years to ensure we don’t see another wave of attacks. Growth of the world’s economy depends on the safety of the major waterways, and inaction could cost lives.


Posted in English, International, Piracy, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pickaxes into plowshares? Two visions for development in the DR Congo

by Peter Dörrie (Homepage / Twitter).


The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a rich land – in theory, at least. Below its soil lie some of the world’s largest reserves of copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and considerable amounts of gold and diamonds. It is the type of wealth that is measured in billions of Dollars and which has fuelled the industrial revolution in Europe and beyond.

In practice, the DR Congo is poor. Its population of 66 million produces only an average of 230 Dollars per year and person in goods and services, making it literally the poorest country in the world, if measured by that metric. Little wonder that many people want to change this unfortunate state of affairs. And little wonder, too, that most of these people are looking at the wealth beneath their feet for a solution. The Congolese government, its people, the international community, international and local business – they all have high hopes for the mining sector. For them, mining, and especially large scale operations, are the ticket to a brighter future for the Congo and its people, not to speak of the profits involved.

But mining brings with it a whole host of problems. Apart from obvious issues with environmental degradation, the incredible amounts of money involved with mining projects have so far arguably done more bad than good for the Congo and despite being a major branch of the Congolese economy since colonial times, most Congolese have yet to profit from the riches that are ripped from their soil every day. Can mining really hold its promises for the development of the DR Congo, or are there alternative, better ways for the government, donors and businesses to invest in a brighter future for the Congolese people?

drcongo-001The promise of mining
With a size rivalling that of Western Europe, it is not surprising that some valuable minerals can be found on the territory of the DR Congo. But the country is unique in that it harbours substantial shares of the worldwide reserves of some essential raw materials, like copper, cobalt and coltan, which is used in every smartphone and computer. Taken together, these resources hold considerable economic promise. The 900,000 metric tonnes of copper that the Congo exported in 2013 are worth about 6.3 billion Dollars at current market prices. Hundreds of millions of Dollar more are exported in the form of gold, diamonds and other valuable ores, some of it legally, most of it smuggled through the porous Eastern borders.

Even at current production levels, the Congo will continue to enjoy this kind of financial potential for some time to come. It has proven reserves of 20 million tonnes of copper and is currently developing promising oil deposits on the border with Uganda. Additionally, few parts of the country have been prospected in detail. Were this to happen, proven reserves of all mineral resources would likely increase substantially. If managed responsibly and intelligently, the Congolese population and economy could profit enormously from these riches. Currently, total government revenue on all administrative levels combined is little more than three billion Dollars – a paltry sum compared to the value that leaves the country in the form of raw materials.

While the Congolese government needs to share the profits with the mining industry, a better management of the sector could already support a considerably higher government budget. Combined with additional income from an expansion and professionalisation in mining practices, as well as an increased investment in local beneficiation, the establishment of manufacturing industries and the corresponding creation of jobs, it would set the Congo on a path to become a upper-middle income country within a generation, if not less.

This rosy vision of the future may be one of the reasons that practically everybody is so committed to making it a reality. Managing the mining sector is one of the highest priorities of the Congolese government and there are countless internationally financed initiatives and aid projects – from the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative to the Africa Mining Vision – that together are investing hundreds of millions of Dollar into transforming the mining sector in the DR Congo.

But there are also other, more sinister reasons that the interest in the mining sector is so high. It is the country’s cash cow and there is no shortage of people, both Congolese and from abroad, who are lining up for their chance to milk it. Gold, diamonds, tantalum and tin – minerals that are mostly mined by artisanal miners in small operations in the country’s east – are overwhelmingly smuggled out of the country with the complicity of corrupt customs officials and elements of the army, leaving the government with little income from this part of the mining sector.


Large-scale mining projects, like the massive copper mines in Katanga province, on the other hand, are a hot spot for government corruption. Contracts for mining concessions and royalty schemes are negotiated between political insiders and shady businessmen behind closed doors, leading the advocacy organisation Global Witness to estimate that the DR Congo lost 1.36 billion Dollar on corrupt mining deals between 2010 and 2012 alone, double the amount that the government spend on health and education combined over the same period.

As much promise as the mining industry holds for the DR Congo, so far it has arguably hurt the country more than it has helped it to develop. A whole school of thought in the science of political economy has developed around the idea that countries endowed with large amounts of resources are at higher risk of experiencing violent conflicts – and the Congo certainly makes for a convincing argument. Since the end of its brutal colonization by Belgium, the country has experienced decades of violent dictatorship and possibly the deadliest conflict since World War II, dubbed Africa’s World War. To this day, the East of the country remains to a large extend under the control of armed groups. In all of these tragic periods of its history, Congo’s mineral riches were subject to exploitation and financed government suppression and the violence of armed groups.

Additionally, says Maxime Nzita Nganga Di Mavambu, a Congolese national and the WWF’s Central Africa Business and Extractive Industries Regional Coordinator, “most of the mining operations overlap with protected areas, or high value conservation areas,” like in the case of the Virunga National Park that will likely be opened up for oil exploration. Mining, no matter for which resource and under which circumstances, is almost by definition environmentally destructive, even more so in a country with weak regulations like the DR Congo.

“The challenge,” with the mining sector in the Congo, says Maxime, “is that the government policy framework is not effective to support such big investments.” Pouring money into developing the mining sector may be a futile exercise, because if Congo’s recent history is any example, it will benefit only a small elite that has access to the spoils of big business.

But what would the alternative look like? Leave all the riches of the Congo in the soil, while a sizeable part of the population suffers from food shortages and has a life expectancy of a mere 50 years? Counterintuitively, this could prove to be a viable alternative and the experience of one of the Congo’s neighbours, the United Republic of Tanzania can provide some inspiration.

Agriculture in Tanzania (Source: Shakki,  Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported).

Agriculture in Tanzania (Source: Shakki, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported).

An alternative across the border?
Tanzania sports major reserves of gold, gemstones, iron, oil and natural gas, most of which has been known since colonial times. But for the better part of its independence, the contribution of the mining sector to Tanzania’s economic development has been negligible, because its post-colonial government decided to concentrate on another sector instead: agriculture.

“Every sector should be a slave to agriculture,” says Philip S. Marmo, Tanzania’s ambassador to Germany. Now residing in Berlin, Philip has been involved with drafting the Tanzanian mining code, was a member of Tanzania’s parliament and one of the lead negotiators for resource deals between his government and China. Tanzania’s government, he says, made a conscious decision after gaining independence to discourage any investment in the mining sector by foreign companies. The Mining Ordinance Bill of 1969 granted the minister responsible for minerals powers to issue, renew, or refuse to issue mining licences in a completely arbitrary process, leading to a decline of commercial gold mining from a production of three tonnes in the early 1960s to an official end of production in 1972. Instead of focusing on the exploitation of mineral resources, the Tanzanian government diverted attention to the agricultural sector. Part of a socialist political project of President Julius Nyerere, dubbed Ujamaa, meaning “unity”, emphasis was put on agricultural self-reliance.

Ujamaa was in no way a complete success story, but it laid the groundwork for some remarkable developments in the agricultural, as well as the mining sector in Tanzania. Most importantly, Tanzania today is self-sufficient in most areas of food production. “Tanzania’s self sufficiency today is a result of the ‘agriculture first’ policy we implemented early on,” says ambassador Philip S. Marmo, but he also insits that the Tanzanian government concentrated on agriculture “not only because of food security.”

“This is mere statistics,” he explains. “More than 80 percent of our people work in the agricultural sector. Hardly 500,000 people work in mining, including artisanal miners.” Investments in agriculture would therefore benefit the livelihoods of far more people than spending money on developing mining projects.

Another interesting aspect of this prioritisation is that the de-emphasizing of the mining sector, according to Philip, allowed Tanzania to escape some of the worst consequences of the Resource Curse that the DR Congo, as well as many other African countries, have to grapple with. Because of the limited importance big international mining corporations, who “have not been very helpful,” says Philip, the government was able to establish important policy frameworks and institutions before throwing the doors open to investors. When the sector was liberalized due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the late 1980s, Tanzania had political structures in place that were able to deal with the negotiations and money involved without corrupting the entire state, like it is still the case in the Congo.

An agricultural paradise?
So should the Congo follow the Tanzanian example and radically limit the importance of its mining industry for the benefit of the agricultural sector? There is a range of arguments that should make everybody at least consider this option seriously. Apart from the fact that one century of mining has so far done little for equitable economic development and maybe even hindered it, the Congo has a huge food security problem. “There is a massive shortage of food,” says Stefan Hauser, a systems agronomist with 25 years of research experience in West and Central Africa. “Maize and cassava crops plummeted during the civil war and have still not regained pre-war levels. And even back then you couldn’t speak of food security.”

According to a 2012 paper by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the DR Congo has the highest number of undernourished persons in all of Africa, with 50 percent of the population lacking essential nutrients. This contributes directly to some of the highest rates of stunted child growth and mortality in the world.


On paper, the Congo has all the necessary implements needed to kickstart its agriculture. According to a widely cited statistic, the country possesses up to 80 million hectares of arable land, which could feed 1 billion people, about the population of the whole African continent. Currently, only about 10 percent of this land is put to use. The Congo river, the second largest river in the world, provides an abundance of water for irrigation, as do large amounts of rainfall. In addition to growing food for domestic consumption, the climate is also well suited to typical cash crops like bananas, cocoa and palm oil.

Agriculture currently employs more than 70 percent of Congo’s population, a majority of which are women. Combined with the dramatically low productivity of the sector – it only contributes a little more than 40 percent to national economic output – this means that investments in the sector would potentially benefit a huge part of the population, women most of all. The direct employment potential of agriculture is certainly higher than in mining, while it offers many of the same opportunities for secondary manufacturing industries.

So what is not to like? Unfortunately a lot. Agriculture has its own set of problems in the Congo, not least among them the issue that not all statistics are as rosy as they sound.

Complications either way
It is true, says agronomist Stefan Hauser that “an enormous area is not put to use for agriculture. This is due first of all to the lack of infrastructure. But another reason is that a good part of the available soil is very poor. Maybe it could be put to use, but it can’t support profitable agriculture in the long run.” The soil towards the atlantic coast in the West is of good quality, says Stefan, but due to Congo’s borders coming in the way there isn’t much of it and the little there is is already used intensively. Towards the South-East it is another story: “this is the poorest soil I have seen in my life,” says Stefan. “Even with chemical fertiliser you have no guarantee that this would work,” because the structure of the soil leads to nutrients being washed out easily by the frequent rainfalls.

The land in the Congo Basin in direct proximity to the river is more promising. It has a higher share of organic matter, due to the tropical rainforest growing on it. “The soil is considerably richer, but of course you have the forest growing on it,” says Stefan. Chopping down the forest would be highly problematic, because it is an important carbon sink. Removing the ecosystem would also mean removing the reason why the soil is more fertile in the first place: without the rainforest, the Congo Basin would face the same issues as much of the rest of the country in a matter of years.

The highlands in the far East of the country are again more fertile, but population density there is already very high and due to the mountainous geography, agricultural land suffers from erosion. “On the better part of the land currently not in agricultural use, I see little opportunity for sustainable agriculture,” argues Stefan – at least not with current methods. “You would need other systems that involve more green manure and organic mass, to hold more nutrients in the soil,” he says. “But this is a protracted process and I can’t see farmers investing in it.”

Fires in Democratic Republic of Congo, May 13, 2010. Fire is a pivotal part of agriculture across most of Africa. People burn crop residue to clear fields after harvest, and they burn forest and other natural vegetation to clear new land for farming. Fire is also used to drive game and grazing animals to new locations and to stimulate new growth in pastures (Source: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA).

Fires in Democratic Republic of Congo, May 13, 2010. Fire is a pivotal part of agriculture across most of Africa. People burn crop residue to clear fields after harvest, and they burn forest and other natural vegetation to clear new land for farming. Fire is also used to drive game and grazing animals to new locations and to stimulate new growth in pastures (Source: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA).

In addition, the infrastructure of the Congo remains woefully inadequate for the expansion of the agricultural sector. According to the last available World Bank statistics, only 1.8 percent of all roads are paved and the country only has 153,497 km of them, compared to ten times the length in Brazil, for example. Under these circumstances, even if farmers would produce a surplus of staple foods, they couldn’t bring it to potential customers due to high transport costs and durations making the trade unprofitable. The same is true for most export crops: while bananas would certainly grow in the DR Congo, the long distance to a viable seaport puts the country at a severe disadvantage against other producers.

Developing the agricultural sector also brings with it the risk of ‘land grabbing’. Investors from Western, Asian and Arab countries are using many of the same institutional weaknesses that present problems for the mining sector to gain access to thousands of hectares of land in African countries at prices far below its real value. Often, land grabbing results in the eviction of the local population and while agricultural productivity on foreign-owned farms usually sky-rockets, the products are mostly exported and don’t contribute to alleviating hunger, nor do they benefit local industry.

Doing the right thing
Does this mean that agriculture isn’t an alternative to the current paradigm of focussing on mining for national economic development? Hardly. Despite the formidable challenges, agriculture should still be the focus of the government, says Maxime Nzita Nganga of the WWF: “State leadership should have gone to the promotion of the agriculture sector as [the] core economic benchmark,” he argues, because of the “tangible benefits for the Congolese population.” Even if, as Stefan Hauser points out, the agricultural potential of the Congo is nowhere near some of the more optimistic estimations, the country should still be able to increase production substantially, maybe even becoming a net exporter of foodstuffs.

The key is that transforming an economy that has been neglected and left behind as thoroughly as the Congolese will always require a tremendous amount of effort, investment and attention, no matter the path that is ultimately chosen. In the long-run, all sectors of the economy have to be developed anyway to realize the country’s full potential. The question that remains, is which should gain priority. In the case of the Congo, the answer should probably be agriculture. While it may be tempting to look at the mining sector with its huge potential for a quick buck, a more sustainable approach would follow the Tanzanian example and use the focus on the agricultural sector as an opportunity to solve some of the underlying issues that have held back mining from fulfilling its promise to the Congolese people.

Solving the agricultural crisis in the Congo will necessitate reforming the state from the ground up, laying the groundwork for an effective system of governance that can later be used to manage the extractive industries. Investments in infrastructure that would allow agricultural products to reach their markets would have enormous benefits for the rest of the economy as well, creating opportunities for investment that would put the income from mineral resources to good use. And last but not least, it is arguably just the right thing to do: supporting agriculture benefits the larger number of people and provides an answer to the problem of hunger, maybe the most dehumanizing challenge the nation faces today.

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