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Another Intervention in Libya? What’s at Stake

Should a US-led coalition intervene in Libya, with force, for the second time in five years?

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This week, I was lucky enough to appear before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, alongside Professor Malcolm Chalmers from RUSI, and Chris Stephen, Libya correspondent at the Guardian. Here are some brief thoughts, building on our discussion.

The bottom line, up front: there is a case for a limited and focussed campaign to check the Islamic State’s expansion in the country, to fit the broader strategy of containment. The UK and the international community have real (though limited) interests in doing so.

At the same time, our first responsibility in conducting a military campaign is to ‘do no harm’ – or at least do minimal harm – to that country’s effort to establish a constitutional government, and to prevent sliding into anarchy. Libya’s destiny is primarily a matter for Libyans. Our job is to check IS’ expansion without making Libyans’ job harder.

Libya today is almost a shattered state. It is fragmented between rival factions (and factions within factions) and rival parliaments. Oil production – its main source of wealth -has plummeted badly since 2011. In this atomised society, there is even more than one institution that calls itself the Libyan National Army. If that isn’t bad enough, Libya is also an arena for Gulf Arab rivalries. There is currently a painstaking effort to pull together a unity government of ‘National Accord’, but the details are dividing Libyans and the process appears fragile.

Beyond compassion, why should we care? The Islamic State has a foothold there. It is expanding its presence. These Islamist zealots believe in the coming apocalypse and think Al Qaeda is too soft. But they are also opportunistic, exploiting divisions, making practical alliances and absorbing former rivals where they can. IS has also seized the overthrown dictator Colonel Gaddafi’s coastal home town of Sirte, and a stretch of territory on either side. Somewhere, his ghost is laughing.

This raises two fears. One, that the Islamic State if left unchecked could use the country as a sanctuary, and as a staging post for more terrorism abroad. In the words of Libya’s ambassador to the UAE, might this turn Libya into IS’ ‘gas station, ATM and airport?’

Secondly, there are broader dangers. Further destabilisation could drive yet more people to flee North Africa into Southern Europe, with all the upheaval this brings. The security interests of the Medieterranean world and beyond are at stake.

With IS closing in on the country’s oil terminals and facilities, the very survival of the Libyan economy could be jeopardised. We can’t know exactly what more deterioation could bring in its wake. But we aren’t keen to run the experiment.

Before judging how to address the problem, a tiny note to liberal interventionists and R2P advocates. This was precisely the kind of chaos that the ‘something must be done’ faction confidently forecast would happen if we didn’t join the hostilities in 2011. If this ‘textbook’ ‘model intervention’, this exercise in ‘smart power at its best’ shows one thing, it is the lethality of untempered good intentions, especially when accompanied by swagger. President Obama reportedly was hesitant about the campaign in 2011. Evidently, with good reason.

History, however, happened. Judging on what we can know, now intervention in some form looks likely. Haunted by both the failures of intervention, and the failures of non-intervention, governments are understandably uncertain not whether but when and how to step in.

So what is the nature of the problem? Firstly, we should not interpret the emergence of IS in Libya as the sign of a resurgent, metastasising movement that poses a dire threat to our very existence.

On the contrary, IS raises its flag in Libya because it is suffering from the cumulative pressure that the US and its allies and other adversaries are applying on many fronts. IS is a protostate, as well as a terrorist movement, that seeks to rule territory and extract resources severely to fund its operations. Incrementally, gradually, frustratingly slowly, the current containment strategy is successfully strangling it.

Consider the indicators over the past year. IS’ expansion in its heartland ‘caliphate’ territory has been curbed. Airstrikes and ground operations have starved it of spectacular military victories to follow its most galvanising conquest, of Mosul in 2014. It has been evicted from Ramadi, Tikrit, and Baiji. This matters, because IS relies upon the mystique of world-historical victories to keep attracting recruits and edge ahead within the competitive jihadi marketplace. Slowly, combined pressure traps it within a ‘hammer and anvil’ dilemma. IS fighters cannot easily mass to mount offensive operations, as they will present large targets. But if they disperse for security, their effectiveness as a fighting force is weakened.

For those who fall under its rule, and those who migrate to join the show, IS offers a harsh purital rule and a high-taxing, extractive regime that bleeds dry the land it fights to defend. A flight of people and capital will probably follow. Defections are reportedly rising, though evidence is patchy. There are greater restrictions now from Turkey on the flow of fighters into Syria. Airstrikes and interdiction have badly damaged IS’ oil business and depleted its revenue. Only last month, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights revealed, IS halved its jihadis’ salaries, its diminishing resources being split between fighting and governing. Even its own public preachments suggest that the tide is turning: IS’ own Media Centre has shifted its theme from triumph to endurance in the face of affliction.

This does not preclude more theatrical terrorist attacks like Paris. But those strikes too are a response to increasing adversity, not a symptom of a jihadi juggernaut. Libya is a concern to address. But for countries like the UK, the sky is not falling.

How, then, to intervene sensibly? The nature of the problem here is the difficult symbiosis between waging an effective military campaign to disrupt IS, while at the same time working hard to prevent the campaign accelerating the country’s unravelling.

Any prudent intervention should steer clear of the twin temptations of doing nothing or ambitously trying to fix the country. We can’t afford, and don’t have the political will, to insert a large stabilisation force into the country. Going by the rough rule of thumb in counterinsurgency, that an occupier needs 20 troops for every 1000 people, that would require 130,000 troops, an order of magnitude that is too costly and would probably generate resistance. We are talking about checking the advance of around 5-6000 IS fighters. Our society cannot continue fighting intensive large-scale COIN campaigns, and neither can our reduced and stretched armed forces. A ‘rollback’ strategy, or an effort to foist one ‘strongman’ on the country, would be a cure worse than the disease.

So a more limited campaign of selective airstrikes and advisory/training missions, married with special forces and working with locals is the most viable route. The trouble lies in the ‘misalignment problem‘, the tendency for international forces and their hosts to have conflicting interests as well as common ones. Selecting worthy partners for assistance carries the risk of unintentionally fuelling conflict, by empowering some at others’ expense, driving fresh antagonism, undermining the effort at political reconcilation, and implicating the West with bad governance into the bargain.

Libyans like all of us are political, and increasing their capacity to govern and fight technically does not address the political problem, that others sometimes use the resources and capabilities outside powers give them for purposes we don’t like. We can’t control much of Libyan politics, but we can and should work hard to be discriminate. If this means taking more time and maintaining strong restrictions on airstrikes, then this is worth it. There are some practical steps that intervening powers can take, to avoid unwittingly exacerbating problems from economic collapse to the flight of people, creating a fertile ground for IS to recruit.

This means we need to work harder to insure against unintended consequences. An intensive diplomatic effort to get Gulf partners behind the unity government process is one move worth trying. Another is establishing coordinating mechanisms like joint command centres for intelligence collection and battlefield coordination for a better chance of avoiding entanglement in other conflicts, and some conditionality on assistance to armed groups. Furthermore, the focus ought to lie on a specific centre of gravity rather than on general stabilisation, namely the protection of oil production capacity. To give the creation of a new political settlement a chance means preventing IS doing the one thing that could destroy the economy and thereby undermine the legitimacy of any new order. The Islamic State is a real thing that threatens the country. It is also, potentially, a wonderful excuse for opportunists on the ground to abuse.

Distance itself counts. Libya’s geography limits the direct threat IS can pose and presents it with some notable disadvantages. It would be difficult for IS to export high volumes of oil, which would be vulnerable to interception at sea. Hostile factions and militias abound. There aren’t the same sectarian rivalries that IS can expoit in the Middle East. And IS’ setback last year in Derna could be the pattern of things to come, expansion followed by severe misrule, followed by resistance and revolt. In the meantime, European states can work harder to improve intelligence and counter-terrorist co-ordination, putting more barriers in the spaces in between.

The hardest part of this debate lies not in Libya, but domestically. There is a bipolar quality to foreign policy debate on both sides of the Atlantic. In recent times, public debate has lurched from ignoring mounting problems in Libya, to overreacting and branding dangerous situations as first-order ‘existential’ or ‘mortal’ threats. Containment may be the most sound strategy, but another terrorist attack at home could bait a reckless counter-reaction. Precisely at the time where sustained pressure is working, a little proportion is due.

There is a case for intervention, but one more mindful of a possibility than recent Strategic Reviews, that we may wish to act abroad in the name of the ‘golden thread’ of good governance, stability and development. But in acting to bring order, we can unwittingly be agents of chaos.

Intervention in Libya should focus on achievable goals, concentrating on what our troops are actually excellent at doing: helping others in fighting, capturing and holding ground. This is not a grand ‘solution’ – that is not in our gift – but part of a long-term strategy to contain the Islamic State while it slowly destroys itself. This would serve our security interests, while giving Libyans a chance to breathe and negotiate their own political future.

When eagles scare: there are other ways to stop a rogue drone

Anna H. Jackman, University of Exeter

Reckless or criminal uses of drones are on the rise and police forces have reported “a spike” in the number of drone-related incidents in the UK, mirroring the growth in the technology’s popularity. This ranges from hobbyist operators fined for “flying dangerously” and a rise in close-calls with manned aircraft, to incidents of drones ferrying drugs into prison and even unspecified “sexual offences”. Authorities around the world have also warned of the growing use of drones by hostile actors, including insurgents and terrorists.

The mounting threat of drone users not following aviation regulation or committing crimes means police need effective ways to stop and capture rogue devices. One novel and widely reported idea being explored by the Dutch National Police is the training of bald eagles to down drones. While this “low tech solution for a high tech problem“ has some advantages, the dangers it poses to the animals themselves suggests we shouldn’t write off alternative counter-measures.

One of the key challenges for any anti-drone counter-measure is that the typical small size of most drones makes them difficult to detect and target. Drones are mobile, nimble and can use technologies such as thermal cameras to operate day and night. At first glance, the bald eagle may seem well suited to the task of downing a drone because of its “natural” ability to spot a target and rapidly intercept it – as the video below shows. By seizing the drone out of the sky, the bird disables the device without raising fear of it falling onto people below and instinctively finds a safe area to land.

But critics have argued that the idea of using the bird’s natural hunting instincts fails to understand that bald eagles are not falconry predators who typically grab other birds out of the sky but rather eat mostly fish and carrion. Other more practical issues include the cost of training and keeping eagles for the occasional use of intercepting rogue drones, and the time it could take for a bird to be deployed to the drone’s location. It’s also worth considering that evidence shows animals are physically affected by a drone’s presence, and the technology is banned in all US National Parks due to its impact on wildlife, especially birds nesting birds of prey.

Guard From Above, the company that trains the eagles being used by the Dutch police, claim the birds are used to overpowering large and dangerous prey, and that the scales on their talons which protect them from victims’ bites will also shield them against drones. But the carbon fibre blades of many drones are unlike a natural hazard, and have been known to cause serious injuries, including a child’s eye being sliced in half.

Interception

Eagle interception may appear simple but there are numerous other ways to intercept rogue drones already under development. Alternative physical interception methods also provide a way to deliver the target safely to the ground so the police can confiscate and examine it, without raising animal welfare issues. Police in Tokyo, for example, recently announced plans to deploy drones that can drop nets on rogue platforms, an approach that has been described as “robotic falconry”. But, as with eagles, these relatively new and untested systems require trained officers to deploy them.

Other potential approaches include using another drone to intercept the rogue unit and cause it to crash, or one that fires projectiles or “drone munition” at the target. However, this has the obvious downside of causing it to drop out of the sky, creating a considerable safety hazard and making the drone more difficult to retrieve.

Another idea for intercepting a drone is to manipulate its software or interfere with its electromagnetic operating range. A key advantage of these approaches is that they don’t necessarily require a police officer to be present at the drone’s location. One such method is known as geo-fencing because it involves erecting an invisible “electronic fence” that prevents drones from flying into certain areas or at certain times.

These areas are embedded into a drone’s software by the manufacturer and can be added or altered with each software update. While this may be a particularly good way to protect sensitive sites such as airports, there are already concerns that some drone users may be able to bypass the software.

Airport menace
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Other non-physical approaches to countering drones are more active and involve interfering with and manipulating the drone. Jamming involves sending out an electronic signal that blocks the GPS navigation system and attacks the command link to the operator, essentially confusing the drone. This can also affect other GPS users in the area, however, and unauthorised jammers are often illegal.

More active still are spoofing or hacking techniques that involve fooling the drone’s GPS system and taking control of the device. While this approach can be effective against rogue drones, legitimate users are also vulnerable to spoofing technology that is relatively easy to construct.

A perfect solution has yet to be found, but interest and investment in drone countermeasures is increasing, giving authorities a growing number of options for tackling rogue drones. While reactions to the Dutch police’s idea may at times be amusing, choosing a humane answer to the problem deserves a more thorough and thoughtful reflection, one that’s less hasty than an eagle downing a drone.

Anna H. Jackman, PhD candidate in Human Geography, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Norway may open up spectacular Lofoten archipelago to oil and gas firms

Joseph Dutton, University of Exeter

At the start of each year, Norway hands out new licences for offshore oil and gas development. Typically, these “Awards in Predefined Areas” (APA) receive little coverage outside of the specialist media. But this year was more controversial, after the country’s energy minister argued that the environmentally-sensitive Lofoten islands “must at some point come into play”.

Lofoten is a unique and stunning archipelago in Norway’s far north, where huge unspoilt mountains rise out of the ocean. Located at the end of the gulf stream, it’s unusually mild for somewhere beyond the Arctic circle. Large coral reefs found to the west of the islands mean that the region’s cod-filled waters are protected by domestic laws and international conventions.

Far beyond the Arctic Circle.
CIA / wiki

Despite the energy minister’s comments, no licences were actually offered immediately next to Lofoten – this time. And those that were offered in the region were all further from Lofoten than the closest existing one, which is around 70km from the south-west edge of the islands and is operated by state-owned Statoil, who are yet to start drilling. Nonetheless even the prospect of future development was enough to worry environmental groups, and has led some to question the country’s commitment to addressing climate change despite the 2015 Paris agreement.

Why Lofoten?

The collapse in oil prices over the past two years has delayed or cancelled many expensive new projects around the world. Lofoten has emerged as a cheap alternative as the islands are close to the mainland and the surrounding waters are relatively shallow.

Drilling in the area was prohibited under Norway’s 2006 management plan for sustainable use of the Barents and Norwegian seas. But the resources are hard to ignore – there are an estimated 1.3 billion barrels of oil in Lofoten and neighbouring Vesteralen and Senja. (By comparison, the UK’s entire resources are estimated to be up to 21 billion barrels.)

‘Stockfish’ – unsalted cod, dried in the open – is a Lofoten tradition.
Harvey Barrison, CC BY-SA

In 2013, Norway’s Labour prime minister Jens Stoletenberg supported an impact assessment study on development in the area, but following the election that year the new Conservative-led coalition agreed not to drill in these areas, around the protected island of Jan Mayen, or in the so-called High Arctic region.

With the Conservatives still in power, opening up Lofoten would represent a backtrack. Yet it’s not just Lofoten. This year’s round of exploration licenses was also notable for the number offered in the Norwegian Sea, 24 out of a total 56 – with 27 in the North Sea and five in the Barents Sea. This is the highest number since the current system was introduced. It highlights the financial difficulties facing oil and gas companies, but also suggests a change in the geography of Norwegian oil and gas development.

Environment or economy?

The next wave of exploration work was long expected to take place in the Barents Sea, off Norway’s northern coast. However the lack of previous infrastructure to build on and some disappointing reports of smaller than expected oil discoveries means the economics there are challenging. This was an issue back when oil prices were riding high, and the drop since then has further dimmed the prospects of developing the Barents.

Norway is also concerned about the future of gas demand in Europe. What’s the point of setting up drilling rigs and pipelines in the Arctic if no one wants to buy it? Gas has been caught up in the EU’s drive to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, and difficulties with the EU emissions trading scheme have so far stymied hopes that it could be the bridging fuel to a predominantly renewable future.

In May 2015 Norway’s parliament asked the country’s US$857 billion sovereign wealth fund, Norges Banke, to divest from coal power – a move applauded by climate activists. But less than a year later this latest round of new oil and gas developments has drawn criticism from those who claim opening up new fields will undermine Norway’s commitment to tackling climate change, just weeks after the Paris deal.

Even though development at Lofoten is unlikely in the near future, the minister’s comments on opening the area up at some point could be reflective of a wider trend across the world. For all the big talk about fighting climate change, the basic truth remains: future production of oil and gas is central to the Norwegian economy, while the EU will still want a secure supply of these fossil fuels – especially gas.

Joseph Dutton, Research Fellow, Energy Policy Group, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdoğan’s militarised politics

Celal Cahit Agar, University of Exeter and Steffen Böhm, University of Exeter

While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

Academics targeted

Following this, Turkish federal prosecutors have investigated 1,128 of the signatories with 33 academics from three Turkish universities in Bolu, Kocaeli and Bursa being detained because of their alleged propaganda for a terrorist organisation and insulting the Turkish nation, state, government and institutions.

Turkey’s top higher education body, the Higher Education Board (YÖK), has called for university administrators to impose disciplinary sanctions against the academics. Subsequently, 109 academics from 42 Turkish universities were subjected to dismissal, discharge, suspension, termination and forced resignation.

A government-backed counter-petition, Academics Against Terror, has also been organised. The Grey Wolves, also known as Idealist Hearts, a formal youth organisation of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the Turkish parliament, has even marked the office doors of signatories and left written threats.

Despite this, immediately after the government’s response, the number of academics participating in the campaign increased from 1,128 to 4,491. There has also been a public reaction against the government’s tactics.

Within just two weeks, independent petition campaigns organised by a variety of civic and professional organisations have collected more than 60,000 signatories, and supporting statements have been released by 65 organisations that have millions of members across the country.

The original petition has also created much-needed international solidarity with more than 60 international institutions, organisations, leading academics and politicians issuing messages of support and ten international petition campaigns being organised worldwide.

The recent clampdown on academics characterises the scope of the new “counterterrorism” strategy of the Turkish state. This “new” doctrine is again promoting a military solution to the Kurdish question by concentrating state violence against the Kurds and supporters of Kurdish rights.

There has been violence between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the town of Silvan.
Sertac Kayar/Reuters

Political plotting

After a period of fragile negotiations with the hope of ending the decades-long conflict, the new doctrine has emerged since the June 2015 Turkish general elections, when Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win a majority in parliament for a single-party government.

The government introduced the strategy after the June elections in an attempt to win back the votes of Turkish nationalists in the MHP, a long standing ultra-nationalist political party, and the “borrowed votes” of Turkish dissidents who temporarily collaborated with the HDP, a pro-Kurdish and pro-minority political party.

The Turkish state is also using the Syrian refugee crisis and military intervention against the so-called Islamic State to gain international support from the EU and the US.

In line with the “new” doctrine, the ongoing ceasefire agreement and peace negotiations between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) were officially suspended in July, with a state of emergency and curfew declared in Kurdish territories by the AKP government.

According to a report in Turkish by the Human Rights Association in Turkey, between June and November, 602 people (including 41 children) were killed, 1,300 people were injured, 1,004 people were jailed and 5,713 people were taken into custody during the military operations in Kurdish towns. There were also 134 people killed and 564 injured in two suicide bombings in Suruç and Ankara.

This campaign seemed to pay off for the AKP, with a significant increase in support within the six-month period. The AKP won 49.50% in a second parliamentary election called on November 1 2015, returning their single party majority.

Water cannon used to disperse Kurdish protests in the Sur district of the southeastern city of Diyarbakir in late January 2016.
Sertac Kayar/Reuters

Entrenching positions

It seems that Turkey’s “new” anti-Kurdish doctrine is a strategic, precautionary manoeuvre to maintain the popularity of Erdoğan’s regime. The government is aiming to avoid potential resistance, such as that experienced in the Gezi Park uprising in 2013, which unified a wide range of dissidents including leftists, Turkish nationalists, capitalists from the upper classes and religious groups.

Through its anti-Kurd strategy, the government is simultaneously deepening localised political and social tensions in Kurdish regions and reunifying right-wing nationalist civil society and political organisations under the flag of Turkish chauvinism.

In this light, the petition by Academicians for Peace is not only a revolt against the government’s Kurdish policy, but also a very effective swipe at the crucial point of the “new” strategy. It draws academics, students, intellectuals and other urban professionals together throughout the country, sending a wake-up call to the international public that Erdoğan’s new political and military strategy cannot be tolerated.

The Conversation

Celal Cahit Agar, Ph.D. Candidate / Research Assistant, University of Exeter and Steffen Böhm, Professor in Organisation Studies, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.