Dan Sowik on the ARRC Staff Ride to Berlin

At first glance, the city of Berlin bears few scars of the brutal Soviet assault it suffered in 1945. However, at certain moments during NATO’s Exercise ARRCADE BUGLE 14, a chronological journey through the siege which ended the Second World War in Europe, and through the city’s Cold War experience, the history seemed to seep out of the surroundings. Standing on Kustrin Fort and looking westward across the River Oder towards Berlin, as so many thousands of Red Army soldiers must have done with anticipation and apprehension in April 1945. Looking out from the Seelow Heights over the Oder flood plain, across which nearly a million Soviet troops advanced in the last big push of the European war. Standing on the remains of the Humboldthain flak tower in central Berlin, where crew after crew of Hitler Youth manned the guns in defence of what remained of Hitler’s Germany, in the face of certain annihilation by a ferocious Soviet artillery bombardment.

Though certainly of immense historical importance, the Battle for Berlin does not stand as a shining example of strategic brilliance from which modern leaders can learn. It is, at its simplest level, a case of the final death throes of a fanatical regime being violently suppressed by the brute force of an equally tyrannical opponent. Leadership was weak on both sides, with Hitler giving contradictory orders and awaiting salvation in the form of outmanned and outgunned armies, and Stalin playing Russian generals against one another, letting them throw tens of thousands of men into the fray as they competed to enter Berlin and capture the Reichstag building. Effectiveness at the tactical level varied wildly, but this was ultimately of little consequence when both sides were willing to accept such heavy losses.

Having grown up in the bubble of relative peace and security that is post-Cold War Europe, perhaps the most striking thing about the Berlin staff ride was how the historical conflict simultaneously felt so foreign, and yet so familiar. While the idea of total war in Europe now seems like a bad nightmare for many of us, some collective memories are longer than others, and the history of the 1940s now acts as an ideological catalyst for a war in Eastern Europe. While the presentations and discussions with NATO personnel which punctuated the tour highlighted the ways in which warfare at the tactical, operational, and even strategic levels has evolved in the last 70 years, the trip served as a poignant reminder of what can happen when grand strategies collide. Moreover, hearing the news while in Berlin that a civilian airliner had been shot down over Ukraine drove home the point that the Second World War was no more a ‘war to end all wars’ than the First.

Ultimately, the Berlin staff ride was an incredible experience, and an opportunity to study perhaps one of the most comprehensive victories ever achieved in a war of ideology and conquest. While there are few modern parallels, there are still lessons which can and should be learned from the Battle for Berlin, not the least of which is the ultimate, terrible cost of total war between industrialised, fanatical nations.

MStrat and ARRCADE FUSION

‘Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ is an imposing title that is entirely suitable for NATO’s premier rapid deployment headquarters. This means ‘HQ ARRC’ is the headquarters that NATO may turn to in its hour of need. If it is believed that a region needs stabilising, this will probably be the organisation that does it.

However maintaining the capability and expertise that ensures this is not an easy task. This is where exercises like ARRCADE Fusion become important. At several points throughout the year the staff at HQ ARRC are tested to breaking point through simulations designed to mirror what could happen if they were deployed. The Exercise Control, or ‘EXCON’, spends three weeks causing chaos within the simulation and the staff of HQ ARRC has no choice but to respond with all the energy they can muster.

Within this maelstrom of activity and acronyms, two former MStrat students found themselves arriving with sleeping bags and, in my case, wholly inadequate waterproof clothing in hand. Daniel Sowik and I had volunteered for this mission determined to understand what the ‘Applied’ in ‘MA Applied Security Strategy’ actually means.

As part of an experiment for HQ ARRC and SSI, we were attached to the G2 Branch’s All Source Cell. The G2 is responsible for the HQ’s intelligence activities and our cell analysed the intelligence gathered. The All-Source Cell’s team of analysts makes assessments that help guide senior level decision-making.

Thrust into this frenetic environment Daniel and I were given our roles. He was working with the G2’s Political Advisor as Political Analyst and I, with a counter extremism role in Whitehall, as the Counter Extremism Subject Matter Expert.

However before we dove into the workings of G2 there was the simple matter of the simulation itself. We read hundreds of pages about it, covering mineral deposit locations to relationships between key individuals. After wading through this information, we began to develop our contributions.

Learning how the HQ worked and improving our situational awareness, we eventually became integrated into the processes driving the ARRC’s activities rather than being just ‘attached’. Daniel and I developed white papers that helped to inform the HQ’s commanders, as well as operating as sounding boards for intelligence assessments. Mostly importantly we gave different perspectives on the situation that were appreciated and taken onboard by senior staff, giving us excellent feedback that helped drive the creation of our products. For Daniel and me, hearing that experienced and respected military personnel were finding value in our output was extremely gratifying.

However this is not the whole story of the ARRC.

My personal reflection often returns to being genuinely impressed by HQ ARRC and its personnel. Seeing people work 15 hours a day, keep their spirits up, and find time for the gym is mind-blowing to my former student self. This was whilst sleeping in tents situated in a cold and constantly wet Cornwall far from home.

But what has really surprised me is my reaction to leaving HQ ARRC. After integrating into and experiencing the simulation I remember the feeling of immediacy and the adrenaline rush from operating in that environment. Suffice it to say, I hope to be back soon.

Al Cole was a student on the Innovation Cohort who now works in the Department of Education on Counter Extremism

From Great Leap Forward to Confident Stride, But can China Prevent Itself from Stumbling? By David Bond

Exeter, November 2014. There are signs that China is struggling with the reforms required to realise its potential during a millennia prematurely labeled ‘Asia’s Century’. In three decades China has undergone a transformation of staggering proportions witnessing unprecedented economic growth. The question that remains is whether President Xi Jinpeng can create the conditions within China that will deliver the growth necessary for ‘China’s Dream’. This question will as well be heavily influenced by China’s demographics, which will probably be a seismic game changer. It is possible that China may stumble on its 21st Century journey in attempting to deliver this ‘dream’ as President Xi now wrestles with the dilemma of implementing the policy changes necessary to continue China’s economic growth whilst limiting the change to the workforce’s age structure and insatiable economic aspirations. China’s economy is not without its own problems as William Wilson recently outlined, “China surpassed the United States in outstanding corporate debt last year, amounting to $14.2 trillion. Moreover, the credit quality of Asian corporate debt is much lower than in the West.” The amount of household debt now held in China is approaching the levels the UK experienced between 2001-2007. Such levels of personal debt were assessed as being toxic in the West and contributed, in part, to the slow economic growth post-crash. Radical social and economic reforms are necessary; what is required from the Central Committee, therefore, is action and not inertia.

China has experienced tremendous social change in the past, but the results have not always been terribly impressive. Mao’s Great Leap Forward in 1958-61 was intended to deliver a rapid transformation from an agrarian economy into a communist society through industrialisation and collectivisation. It delivered, however, The Great Famine resulting in 30 million deaths with Mao introducing systematic terror, coercion and forced labour in striving for transformation. A return to such practices in the 21st Century is highly unlikely however, and especially with Xi Jinpeng. The Chinese President is evidently, and intentionally, stepping out of the shadows of the Central Committee. He has solidified his power base, adopted greater executive powers and appears to be forging an identity as Statesman rather than pantomime ‘princeling’. President Xi’s personal experience whilst working in Liangjiahe, on a farm for seven years, should have engendered some empathy with the majority of Chinese people – his abhorrence towards the endemic corruption that exists within government is surely evidence of that. This empathy should serve him well; it is often forgotten that China remains an extraordinarily poor country with around one billion Chinese living in abject poverty on less than $4 a day. Policy reforms therefore, need to address the inequality that exists in China and make society more equitable; he of all of the ‘princelings’ will know that.

The more sophisticated reforms of the late 1970s delivered two basic aims: developing the Chinese economy and controlling the population. Thereafter, China opened its doors to foreign trade and created a manufacturing based market economy and introduced the ‘One Child Policy’. Implemented in 1979, this population control measure has significantly slowed Chinese fertility rates (presently between 1.5 and 1.6 births per woman) and was partly responsible for the demographic dividend that assisted China whilst realising year-on-year gains of 10% gross domestic product (GDP). However, some analysts now assert that such economic growth is unlikely to continue; the signs are that it is already slowing with GDP for 2012 (7.7%) and 2013 (7.6%) falling short of projections.   And, to compound the problem China’s population is ageing, and it is doing so very quickly. The ‘demographic dividend’ that has boosted China’s industries will in a few years become a ‘demographic deficit’. In dealing with this problem, more emphasis on society providing care for the elderly will be necessary. What should be a concern for the Communist Party is that even when unpopular policies like this are relaxed, as was the case last year, cultural changes within society and affordability issues have resulted in a surprising apathy towards larger families. Xinhua, a Chinese paper, recently outlined that whilst “11 million couples have been granted a permit to have a second child since the country relaxed its family planning policy at the end of last year, statistics from the National Health and Family Planning Commission shows that only 700,000 had filed birth applications.” It is possible the cost of sending additional children through an expensive education system, with limited capacity, is preventing parents from extending their families. The government therefore, should add the issue of affordable and available education to its ‘to do list’.

China is not unique in facing this problem, and by 2050 in excess of 60 countries will have populations where over 30% are 60 years or older. Significantly, only a third of those countries affected possess adequate social welfare schemes to address this problem. Significantly, China is not one of those countries and they currently possess a ridiculously low average retirement age (50 years for women and 60 for men). This is accompanied by an archaic pension system that is higher for those in urban areas and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) than it is in the countryside (the 56% living in the countryside can expect a quarter of what those residing in the SEZs receive); such disparity is an obvious source of irritation for those Chinese below the poverty line. Such economic disparity, exacerbated by the ethnic tension that exists in such a vast and diverse country is creating frictions that if not addressed could threaten President Xi’s vision. The problem for China is stark and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS) have acknowledged its existence, stating that they will provide policy solutions by 2020. Many observers contend that this is not quick enough.

Current predictions are that by 2050 there will be almost 420 million pensioners in China. In 2000, there were 6 workers for every retiree, but by 2030 this ratio will have fallen to just 2:1. This development will unquestionably undermine the ‘4-2-1 model’ of familial support that has been lauded as a means of contemporary Chinese workers sustaining their immediate family. Whilst it is likely that a small proportion of Chinese workers could sustain such responsibilities, Stratfor’s George Friedman stated “The China we think of, the China where people are earning more than $20,000 a year, well, that China is maybe 60 million people.” If Friedman’s figures are accurate then pension reform and other welfare policies will be necessary to provide for the majority in their dotage. Presently, the average retirement age in China is 53 years and better nutrition and greater access to modern medicine has resulted in an average life expectancy of 75 years of age. Whilst increasing the retirement age is a suggestion there is a deep and broad objection to this proposal – 70% of those polled in eleven Chinese cities recently objected to raising of the pension age. The MHRSS have indicated that they will legislate on such issues by 2020, but they need to address this quickly as China’s work force, that has so long delivered the demographic dividend the country needed, is now shrinking. For example, there were 3.4 million less workers in China in 2012 than in 2011. China’s workforce is dwindling and whilst it has traditionally been structured on high-volume, low to medium-skilled manufacturing it is now increasingly finding this a highly competitive environment, as William Wilson stated “China’s decade of double-digit wage growth is causing it to lose lower-end manufacturing to less costly countries like Vietnam and the Philippines.

President Xi is clear on his vision: ‘China’s Dream’ of increasing economic power and asserting greater influence across Asia and possibly, globally too. However, presently one billion Chinese remain in poverty, its workforce is ageing rapidly and the welfare provision for these future pensioners is both inequitable and likely inadequate. Moreover, the impending ‘demographic deficit’, low birth rate, on-going corruption and poorly structured economy could result in China stumbling just at the point when everyone expected it to stride purposefully through the 21st Century and emerging as the sole hegemonic power. What is required now in is innovation. Numerous social and economic reforms, briefly outlined, are required to truly unlock the enormous potential whilst addressing the obvious problems. These observations are not criticisms. Over the past 30 years China has done the hard work remarkably well by developing its economy and utilising its mass, but what is now required is the leadership and innovation to do the ‘harder’ work. President Xi must deliver greater governance, re-structure the economy and raise living standards for all and not just the few. Whilst the Central Committee has acknowledged these problems exist there appears more inertia than action in the 18th Plenum and waiting until 2020 might not be soon enough. There is a perception of inertia and a stumble is beckoning….

Weapons for peace? The West needs to convince Assad that he cannot win, by Tobias Borck

The war in Syria has to end in a political solution. This is one of the very few things that most members of the international community agree on. In his recent speech at West Point, US President Barack Obama made clear that that “no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering any time soon.”[i] The Russian Foreign Ministry agrees the lack of any progress on a political settlement of the war only “results in more deaths and suffering in Syria every day.”[ii] The Speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Lrijani, emphasises the need for “negotiations and dialogue,”[iii] and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague thinks that all sides need to “reach an inclusive political settlement that takes into account the needs and aspirations of all Syria’s communities.”[iv]

 

A political solution to the war in Syria is of course not a new idea. Neither is the apparent consensus within the international community that it is the only viable option to end the bloodshed. Peace initiatives, talks, and talks of talks are a constant by-product of the war. Nevertheless, it took almost three years just to get representatives from the regime and the opposition to sit down together in the same room at the UN in Geneva. For a few days in January and February 2014 there was a small glimmer of hope. It was quickly extinguished, though, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s chairman of the negotiations, apologised to the Syrian people that the talks hadn’t “helped them very much.”[v]

 

In the months since the Geneva conference virtually no progress has been made to find a political settlement. Instead around 200 Syrians die every day, adding to the war’s death toll that has already exceeded 150,000.[vi]

 

There are of course several reasons for why a political solution to the conflict remains elusive. The opposition is famously fragmented and al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists act as powerful spoilers. Perhaps the most crucial reason, however, is that Bashar al-Assad still thinks that he can win the war. This year, his forces have made some territorial gains, and although a total military victory is nigh on impossible, so is a total defeat. This is why the Geneva talks failed and why no new negotiations have happened. A political solution requires compromises and the Assad regime simply doesn’t see the need to make any at the moment.

 

If the USA, Russia, the UK, Iran or the rest of the international community are serious about their commitment to a political solution, they will have to convince Assad that there is no alternative to negotiations, that he cannot win the war. There are two options of how this can be done: through diplomatic or military pressure.

 

Russia and Iran hold the key to the diplomatic option. They have the greatest sway over the Assad regime. Without their financial, military and political support, Assad would be in serious trouble. However, this support in the absence of any concessions by the regime in the political process suggests that Russia and Iran are ultimately unwilling to use their leverage over Assad.

 

The only meaningful concession the regime has made since the beginning of the conflict was the deal to give up its chemical weapons, and Russia played a decisive role in this. But it is also important to remember that the deal was only reached after Obama’s infamous ‘red line’ had been crossed with the chemical weapons attack in August 2013. Russian pressure on Assad may have been important, but American missiles pointing at Syria surely helped as well.

 

“When you fear for your life, then you are going to trade,”[vii] says Alistair Burt, a former UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. To make Assad fear for his life and to bring him to the negotiating table, it may therefore be necessary to renew the military pressure on his regime by stepping up support for the opposition forces.

 

It is a sad reality that political solutions to end wars often only become possible through temporary escalation. The example of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina demonstrates this. Here, a brutal war raged for three years. All initiatives for a political settlement failed. Then, in 1995, NATO support enabled a Croat-Bosnian alliance to make significant advances against the Bosnian Serbs. However, NATO did not allow a total Croat-Bosnian victory. This would only have resulted in more ethnic cleansing, this time with the Bosnian Serbs as the main victims. Instead all sides were brought together to negotiate and the Dayton Agreement was reached.

 

The objective of empowering opposition forces in Syria should therefore not be to defeat the Assad regime, but merely to convince him that he cannot win the war. A western military involvement of the same scale as NATO’s Bosnia operation is currently unthinkable in Syria. There is no political will to launch missile strikes, an air campaign, much less a full-scale invasion. However, the USA and its European allies can certainly provide the armed opposition with the military equipment and training it needs to tackle the regime’s tanks and airplanes. In his West Point speech Obama suggested that operations in this direction are already underway.

 

So far, the Obama administration has been extremely cautious in its military support for the opposition, mainly out of fear that American weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamists. This risk is of course difficult to eliminate, but it should also not be overstated. One of the main reasons why groups such as al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have become so influential in Syria is their military effectiveness, not their extremist ideologies. Increasing the military capability of more moderate groups could therefore also limit the influence of the radical Islamist.

 

The war in Syria has to end in a political solution. Ultimately it of course appears counter-intuitive to feed additional weapons into a war that has already killed so many people. American weapons in the hands of opposition forces will inevitably be used to kill more. But as long as Russian and Iranian influence, for whatever reasons, is not enough to convince Assad to make concessions, it may be the only way to create the conditions for meaningful negotiations.



[i] BBC (2014) “Obama West Point Speech in Full with Analysis.” BBC Online, 29 May. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-27606537 [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[ii] Voice of Russia (2014) “Russia Urges Setting of Date for New Round of Syria Talks in Geneva.” Voice of Russia, 15 May. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_15/Russia-urges-to-set-date-for-new-round-of-Syria-talks-in-Geneva-0341/ [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[iii] Press TV (2014) “Iran Backs Political Solution to Syria: Larijani.” Press TV, 5 May. http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/05/05/361455/iran-backs-political-solution-to-syria/ [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[iv] Hague, W. (2014) “Foreign Secretary William Hague to the Montreux Peace Talks on Syria.” Gov.com, 22 January. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/foreign-secretary-statement-to-geneva-conference-on-syria [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[v] Maigua, P. (2014) “Syrian Peace Talks Adjourned Indefinitely.” United Nations Radio, 15 February. http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/02/syrian-peace-talks-adjourned-indefinitely/#.U2J5dl6CTwI [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[vi] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe?fref=ts [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[vii] Burt, A. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

Bosnia Herzegovina Through Fresh Eyes by Al Bowman, MStrat Student

My last experience of the Balkans was as a young infantry officer deployed as part of the United Nations Protection Force in 1995.  Although we were told the Former Republic of Yugoslavia was part of the European land mass and was a conflict on our doorstep, it didn’t much feel like it; it felt a long way away and very different from my own experience of Europe.

What struck me returning for the first time was just how European it now feels.  For all the talk of basket case countries and corrupt bloated political systems the people of Sarajevo and it’s surrounding cantons did not reflect this assessment.  The conflict of 1992-1995 was horribly divisive and unimaginably brutal, yet somehow the human desire for revenge and justice has been parked in order to move on.

Admittedly the underlying nationalist and ethnic tensions that caused the last conflict remain and there is a sense of unfinished business but the hope is that the more that Bosnia Herzegovina can be drawn into the European expansion experiment the less chance there is that the unfinished business will be violent.

What struck me most travelling between Sarajevo and Gorazde was the distance, geography and physical reach between places that look very close on the map.  The Dutch commander at Srebrenica in 1995 was only a short helicopter ride from Sarajevo but it must have felt like he was isolated on a different planet as the genocide took place.  Britain has been lulled into believing over the last 20 years that globalisation has reduced the likelihood of conflict and the physical distance between places is less important.  However, I suspect that geography is very much alive and well as a critical factor in global politics and economics as Russia is demonstrating now.  Soft power and influence is great but it needs hard power that can be projected to make it meaningful.

We ought to remember this when crafting our next salami-slicing National Security Strategy that suggests we can do more with less (again).

MStrat Student, Dom Valitis, reflects on a field trip to Bosnia

One of the first things you notice about Sarajevo is the surrounding landscape. The lush steep hills that tower above the city and the picturesque houses scattered among them paint an idyllic picture that would stand out in any travel brochure or guidebook on the Balkans. At the same time though, they also make you feel rather vulnerable. After all, it was these very same ‘fairy tale’ like hills that enabled Serb Forces to besiege the city and mercilessly attack its residents for nearly 4 years. Although impossible to fully comprehend what that must have been like, standing in the city centre looking up at those hills, you at least get ‘a sense’ of the vulnerability Sarajevo’s residents must have felt during those dark and violent days.  Indeed, the war is never far from mind in Bosnia. From the shrapnel scarred and bullet-riddled buildings to the painful memories etched in the very faces of the Bosnians we met, reminders of the conflict are everywhere.  The trip offered a number of experiences and insights like these that cannot be conveyed in a textbook or learned in a lecture.

Of course, that’s not to say there wasn’t a place for academic pursuits during our visit. The conference room of our hotel in central Sarajevo was the perfect location for a series of lectures on the conflict, how it shaped Bosnia and what the international community is doing  (both right and wrong) to help the country move forward. We were privileged to hear from some of the key people driving that effort forward. Representatives from the UK, EU, UN and OSCE all took time to honestly and openly share their views and opinions with us. It was an invaluable insight into how strategies are applied in the ‘real world’ and the challenges that are encountered in the process.

For me though, the highlight was hearing from ‘ordinary’ Bosnians who were willing to share their deeply personal experiences about the conflict, what life is like in Bosnia today and their hopes and fears for the country. Although harrowing, the trip to Srebrenica and meeting survivors of the massacre was a valuable experience.  So too was our visit to the Sarajevo tunnel and the personal briefing we received from representatives of the International Commission on Missing Persons about their work identifying the hundreds buried in Bosnia’s mass graves. A visit to Goradze underlined the sacrifices made by Britain’s armed forces during the conflict and a discussion with students from Sarajevo University highlighted the challenges facing the country today.

The MStrat trip to Bosnia was an invaluable experience and one that brought to life a cruel conflict that – sadly – is yet to be fully resolved.

 

What Will Shock the World? Waiting for Syria’s Srebrenica by Tobias Borck

The bombing of the Ain Jalout school in Aleppo, on 30 April 2014, encapsulates the horror of the war in Syria. The air strike, carried out by the Syrian military, killed more than 20 people, half of them children. That day, the school was hosting an exhibition of drawings and paintings, in which the students had depicted their dreams – most of them featured the war, death and destruction.[1]

James Bays, reporting for Al-Jazeera, said that the attack on the Ain Jalout school “should shock the world.”[2] But will the shock be big enough to change the attitude of the international community, or rather, the strategies of the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council? Valerie Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, expressed her outrage calling the bombing of the school, and other attacks targeting civilians, “a flagrant violation of the basic tenants of war.”[3] Ultimately, however, the attack is unlikely to change anything.

Syria’s war has entered its fourth year. The killing, maiming and displacement of ordinary Syrians have become a daily occurrence, causing unspeakable human suffering. James Clapper, United States Director of National Intelligence, has recently called the humanitarian situation in Syria “an apocalyptic disaster.” Since the beginning of the war in March 2011, more than 150,000 people have been killed,[4] among them more than 11,000 children.[5] 2.7 million Syrians have fled the country;[6] a further 6.5 million were forced to leave their homes but remain in Syria.[7]

We Are Waiting

The strategy of the western P5 members towards Syria, led by the USA, appears to be based on waiting and monitoring the situation. But what is it that Barack Obama’s government is waiting for?

Despite recent territorial gains for Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a military victory for any side in the conflict is unlikely. The Geneva peace talks, chaired by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, ended without significant results in February 2014. Back then, Brahimi called on all parties involved to decide whether “they want this process to take place or not.”[8] In the absence of any tangible further developments since, the answer seems to be: no. Brahimi himself is expected to resign in the coming months, particularly if presidential elections in Syria planned for June are going ahead. President Bashar al-Assad has recently confirmed his stand for reelection and it is widely believed he will win.[9]

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council Resolution 2139[10] from February 2014, continues to be violated with impunity by all sides in the conflict. The resolution demanded an end to all attacks against civilians, and unrestricted access for humanitarian agencies within the countries. While the resolution is legally binding under International Law, it does not stipulate any consequences for noncompliance or measures for its enforcement. Any advances towards a more robust resolution continue to be blocked by Russia.[11]

To improve their own position and to convince Assad that there can be no military solution to the conflict, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the opposition’s leadership in exile, continues to lobby western governments to provide opposition forces with much needed military equipment. In an interview with Exeter students, Walid Saffour, the SNC’s UK ambassador, expressed his belief that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could make significant progress on the ground “if we have got adequate arms to stop two things: the tanks and the aircraft.”[12]

Next week, Ahmad Jarba, the SNC’s president will visit Washington, not least in an attempt to convince the US government to arm the FSA with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Whether he will succeed, however, is uncertain. Apart from some limited shipments of weapons, the Obama administration has thus far been extremely cautious in providing military equipment to opposition forces. The main reason for this reluctance is the fear that American weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamists.[13]

What Are We Waiting For?

What, then could change US policy towards Syria? A review of some of the US-led military interventions and wars in past decades, suggests that changes in US strategy are often influenced by specific events. With regard to the US interventions in Lebanon (1982), Bosnia Herzegovina (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011), it is possible to identify crucial turning points for US strategy. With the exception of the war in Afghanistan, which was a direct response to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, these events were not in themselves the sufficient or sole reason for respective US governments to launch interventions. They did not occur in a vacuum, but rather in a continuum of conflicts within the individual countries or – in the case of 9/11 – within the context of global developments. They were the last straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back and convinced the US presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama that military action, or at least military support for one side in the conflict, was unavoidable.

In 1982, Ronald Reagan’s decision to send almost 2,000 US Marines to Lebanon came days after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September. At this point, Lebanon’s civil war had already devastated the country for seven years. In August, a contingent of US marines had briefly deployed to Lebanon as part of a multinational force to supervise the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from the country. They left on 10 September. A week later, between 16-18 September, a Christian militia – with, at the very least, the quiet acceptance of the occupying Israeli army – killed between 700 and 3,000 Palestinian refugees. The images of the massacre’s aftermath went around the world and promoted Reagan’s formation of a new multinational force tasked with supporting the Lebanese government. The intervention was ultimately unsuccessful and ended in the horrific terror attack on the US Marines’ barracks in October 1983. The war continued until 1990.[14]

In Bosnia Herzegovina, the US-led NATO interventions only occurred after the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. The war had begun in 1992 and had already cost tens of thousands of deaths. A UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), with limited US participation, was deployed in 1992, but only had a mandate to protect certain areas, not to use force to stop the fighting. UNPROFOR’s ineffectiveness was exposed when Bosnian Serb forces overran the Muslim town of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 and killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. Days after the massacre, NATO agreed to take a tougher stand to defend other safe areas and in August launched a decisive campaign to end the war.[15]

In Kosovo, two widely publicised massacres by Serbian forces against Kosovo Albanians in Prekaz and Racak played a critical role in the prelude to NATO’s US-led military intervention. After the Prekaz massacre, in which 53 Albanians were killed on 5 March 1998, the USA intensified its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Two days after the attack, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright announced that “We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia.’’[16] Nine months later, after 45 Albanians were killed in the Racak massacre on 15 January 1999, the USA and its European allies decided that diplomacy alone was no longer enough. In March, NATO’s military intervention began.[17]

The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not preceded by massacres in those countries, but by the terror attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001. These attacks were decidedly more instrumental in the US government’s decision to launch military operations than any of the events outlined above, especially in the case of Afghanistan. However, both Afghanistan and Iraq were on the USA’s foreign policy agenda long before 2001. In 1998, the Clinton administration authorised missile strikes against suspected bases of Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan.[18] In Iraq, the USA played the leading role in maintaining no-fly zones over both the north and the south of the country throughout the 1990s. Regime change in Iraq was certainly identified as a US objective before 9/11, especially among the neoconservative establishment. Yet, it took 9/11 to create the momentum to launch a military campaign.[19]

Finally, NATO’s intervention in Libya is a rare example of where the threat of a massacre was sufficient for the USA and its allies to launch military intervention. In March 2011, Gaddafi’s forces were advancing on Benghazi, the origin of popular protests against the regime and the stronghold for the armed rebellion. Obama later explained his decision to support NATO’s intervention: “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”[20]

These six events – the atrocities in Sabra and Shatila, Srebrenica, and Prekaz and Recak, the attacks of 9/11, and the potential massacre in Benghazi – were unique in themselves and specific to their respective contexts. There is no particular threshold, no definitive number of casualties that forces US presidents to opt for military intervention. However, these events are united in the fact that they represented significant turning points for US strategy. It is important to note that these events did not necessarily lead to international consensus in favour of military intervention – the Kosovo intervention happened despite vehement Russian opposition.[21] Although Russia may have more of an invested interest in Syria than it did in Kosovo, this suggests that deadlock in the UN Security Council is not an insurmountable obstacle to military intervention.

The Waiting Continues

In Syria a turning point was almost reached in August 2013, when between 300-1,400 civilians were killed in a chemical weapons attack. For a few days US missile strikes against Syria seemed likely. However, diplomacy prevailed and the Assad regime agreed to the US-Russia brokered deal to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.[22] Six months later, the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has removed the bulk of Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal.[23] The killing, however, continues unabated and with horrific consistency. In the week culminating in the Ain Jalout school bombing on 30 April 2014, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had counted daily death tolls of 206, 270, 210, 265, 288, 223 and 284.[24] These figures are far from unusual for the war in Syria. The data published on the SOHR’s Facebook page shows very similar numbers for the past months, even years.

Alistair Burt, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, suggests that this consistency is no accident. “We think Assad has learned perfectly well from his father that killing 20,000 people in Hama as in 1982 would not now be the right thing to do,” he said in an interview with Exeter students.[25] However, the death of 200-300 people a day appears to be a level that governments in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Paris and London are prepared to sustain. The decisive turning point, Syria’s Sabra and Shatila or Srebrenica has not yet occurred. For the moment, “four, five thousand, six thousand people a month appears to be a figure that the world is prepared to stand,” says Burt.

In the absence of a turning point event in Syria, a terror attack originating in the country but carried out in one of Syria’s neighbours or even in Europe or the USA could potentially lead to a policy change by western governments. The proliferation of radical Islamist forces and groups linked to Al-Qaeda in Syria is well documented.[26] Thus far, these groups have concentrated on terrorising Syrian civilians. A day before the Ain Jalout school bombing, two car bombs by Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra killed more than 50 civilians and injured hundreds in an area of Homs controlled by the Assad regime.[27]

However, it is far from certain that Al-Nusra, and other radical organisations active in Syria will continue to limit their operations to the battlefield within Syria. Matthew Olson, Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2014 that “Syria has become the preeminent location for independent or Al-Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom we assess may seek to conduct external attacks.”[28]

It is clear that the current policy of the Obama administration and its allies in Europe is not leading to any meaningful changes in Syria. Chemical weapons may have been largely removed from the conflict, but the killing, maiming and displacement of ordinary Syrians continues at a horrifically consistent level. US and European strategy appears to be reduced to waiting, either for one side of the conflict to achieve an unlikely military victory, or for an atrocity that will make further inaction simply impossible.



[1] BBC (2014) “Syria Crisis: ‘Children Killed in Aleppo School Strike.” BBC Online, 30 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27227791 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[2] Al-Jazeera (2014) “Aleppo School Bombing Condemned by UN.” Al-Jazeera Online, 1 May. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/aleppo-school-bombing-condemned-un-2014516372113604.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) “More than 150,000 Martyred and Killed Since the Start of the Revolution.” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Arabic website, 1 April. http://www.syriahr.com/index.php?option=com_news&nid=17296&Itemid=2&task=displaynews#.U2J3A16CTwJ [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[5] Salama, H., and Daragan, H. (2013) “Stolen Futures: The Hidden Toll of Child Casualties in Syria.” Oxford Research Group, 24 November. http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers_and_reports/stolen_futures [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[6] UNHRC (2014) “Syria Regional Refugee Response.” UNHRC, last updated 14 April. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[7] USAID (2014) Syria – Complex Emergency: Fact Sheet #12, Fiscal Year 2014, April 10, 2014. Available at: http://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1866/syria_ce_fs12_04-10-2014.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[8] Maigua, P. (2014) “Syrian Peace Talks Adjourned Indefinitely.” United Nations Radio, 15 February. http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/02/syrian-peace-talks-adjourned-indefinitely/#.U2J5dl6CTwI [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[9] Charbonneau, L. (2014) “Search is on for Successor to Syria Peace Mediator Brahimi.” Reuters, 30 April. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/30/us-syria-crisis-brahimi-idUSBREA3T10A20140430 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[10] United Nations Security Council (2014) “Full Text: UN Security Council Resolution 2139.” UN Watch, 22 February. http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2014/02/22/full-text-un-security-council-resolution-2139/ [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[11] Nichols, M. (2014) “UN Aid Chief Suggests Stronger Action Needed on Syria.” Reuters, 30 April. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/30/us-syria-crisis-aid-un-idUSBREA3T10B20140430 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[12] Saffour, W. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

[13] Pecquet, J. (2014) “Syrian Opposition Looks to Congress for Military Boost.” Al-Monitor, 25 April. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/syria-opposition-congress-military-boost.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[14] Azrael, J. R., and Payin, E. A. (1996) US and Russian Policymaking with Respect to the Use of Force. Santa Monica: RAND. Available at: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/conf_proceedings/2007/CF129.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[15] Daalder, I. H. (1998) “Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended.” Brookings, December. http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/1998/12/balkans-daalder [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[16] Erlanger, S. (1998) “Albright Warns Serbs on Kosovo Violence.” The New York Times, 8 March. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/08/world/albright-warns-serbs-on-kosovo-violence.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[17] BBC (2000) “Behind the Kosovo Crisis.” BBC Online, 12 March. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/674056.stm [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[18] BBC (2014) “Afghanistan Profile: Timeline.” BBC Online, last updated 8 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12024253 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[19] BBC (2014) “Iraq Profile: Timeline.” BBC Online, last updated 1 May. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14546763 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[20] Cooper, H. (2011) “Obama Cites Limits of US Role in Libya.” The New York Times, 28 March. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/world/africa/29prexy.html?pagewanted=1&hp [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[21] BBC (1998) “Why Russia Opposes Intervention in Kosovo.” BBC Online, 13 October. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/111585.stm [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[22] BBC (2014) “Q&A: Syria Chemical Weapons Disarmament Deal.” BBC Online, last updated 30 January. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23876085 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[23] BBC (2014) “Bulk of Syria’s Chemical Weapons ‘Removed’, Says Sigrid Kaag.” BBC Online, 27 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27179365 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[24] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe?fref=ts [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[25] Burt, A. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

[26] Jones, S. G. (2013) “Syria’s Growing Jihad.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 55 (4), pp. 53-72. Available at: https://www.iiss.org/en/publications/survival/sections/2013-94b0/survival–global-politics-and-strategy-august-september-2013-0b78/55-4-07-jones–seth-abcd [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[27] Human Rights Watch (2014) “Syria: Car Bombs, Mortars Hit Residential Areas.” Human Rights Watch, 1 May. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/01/syria-car-bombs-mortars-hit-residential-areas [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[28] Olson, M. G. (2014) “Extremism and Sectarianism in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.” Hearing Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 6 March. Available at: http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/030614AM_Testimony%20-%20Matthew%20Olsen.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

SSI Field Trip to the Somme

SSI Somme Field Trip

Three MStrat Students recall the SSI Somme Trip:

“On a drab and grey Friday afternoon in March we found ourselves standing in a hedgerow next to a farm looking at a large-ish copse at the far end of a field.  Except it wasn’t a hedgerow, it was the forward-most trench of the German Strongpoint defending Serre village on the morning of 1 July 1916.  And the copse wasn’t one large copse but four smaller ones – known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This was the left hand flank (the German right) of the British attack on the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme where the British Army, largely made up of Kitchener’s volunteers formed into Pal’s Battalions, sustained nearly 60,000 casualties in a single day.  Over the course of the weekend we worked our way south, visiting the battlefields around Serre, Beaumont-Hamel and, finally, Thiepval where we laid a wreath from the students and staff of the Strategy and Security Institute at the imposing memorial.

A dozen of intrepid MStrat students took the opportunity of being in France to tour the battlefields.  Whilst many of us had been before, Professor Newton situated the battle in its wider strategic context and gave us a different view of the Great War.  Even if he did have a particular interest in resurrecting the reputation of the Generals… It was interesting to see the extent to which our understanding of what happened in the trenches is coloured by myth.  The portrayals of ‘lions lead by donkeys’ in films and TV shows like Blackadder and Oh What a Lovely War have had a lasting impact and overwritten what may be a more accurate portrayal of strategic leadership in 1916.

Kevin Myers, an Irish historian and journalist, took up this theme of building a myth as he explained how those Irish who fought with the Allies, have been written out of Irish history by successive waves of politicians and academics – despite many of the soldiers being Nationalists themselves.  The power of this narrative is striking, and fascinating how it endures a century on.

For all the understanding we developed of the wider ‘picture’ surrounding The Great War, you cannot escape the pathos of rows of, immaculately kept, white gravestones.  Many of the graves, particularly at ‘Sunken Lane’ the forming up point for the attack on Beaumont-Hamel, stood in clusters – in the beaten zones of the German heavy machine guns.  It does not take much imagination to visualize the ranks of men trudging across No Man’s Land and what they must have gone through.

It was a thoroughly valuable, fascinating and ‘enjoyable’ (if such a word can be used in such a context) trip brought to life and to relevance by our two excellent Tour Guides!”  Gavin Saunders

 

“Having been to the First World War battlefields on a school trip almost a decade ago, as many thousands of children will do so over the coming years to mark the anniversary of the conflict, a few recollections of the Somme stood out – bad weather, the perfectly conserved cemeteries dotted about the countryside, the vast expanses of openness, story after story of seemingly futile attempts to break the German line and, embedded in the psyche, the striking Thiepval Memorial.

This SSI trip now as a (hopefully) more observant MA student and soon-to-be platoon commander, confirmed these memories but also did much, much more.  Perhaps unsurprisingly the ability of General Newton to tie tactical, operational and strategic elements of the Somme together, along with the stories of individuals that really bring a battlefield tour to life, was remarkable – his descriptions of enfilading fire and beaten zones were somewhat more convincing than the valiant efforts of Miss Smith nine years ago. Likewise Kevin Myers powerful inputs on the myths surrounding the Somme were important in helping aid our understanding of the post-war narrative of the battle, and appreciating its place in British history.

As to be expected the sheer scale of the bloodshed is impossible to ignore.  While an overall view of the statistics is shocking enough, it is only when you walk along the headstones reading names, ranks, ages and inscriptions that the emotion tied to understanding that each grave relates to an individual story, of life and of death, really hits home.  Visiting the Thiepval Memorial will once again be an overriding memory of the trip. Laying a wreath from SSI to show our respect was a moving tribute and the image of General Newton and Gavin Saunders bracing up having placed a cross at the gravestones of two unknown soldiers of the Hampshire Regiment, a lineage I hope one day to join, is one that will undoubtedly remain vivid for some time.”  Daniel Hunt

“As a journalist, I’m well aware of the sacrifices the brave men and women of our Armed Forces have made over recent years.  I can vividly remember every single repatriation, inquest and funeral I’ve ever been assigned.  All were deeply sad occasions.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the families and friends of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Perhaps the main thing I took away from the SSI trip to the Somme was the industrial scale of the killing that occurred during World War One. Of course, I had read about the horrors of the war at school but nothing prepared me for the sheer number of graves.  Each one marking a life cut short, a family bereaved and a community shattered.  Nowhere was this more evident than at the Thiepval Memorial; a huge dedication to the 72,000 missing British and South African men who died in the battles of the Somme.  It was an utterly overwhelming experience and a poignant reminder of what can happen when strategies fail.” Dominic Valitis