Visitors to Turkey are warned about developing a “Turkish muscle” – the extra belly fat that you get from eating too much Turkish food. Yet it’s the country’s desire to flex its foreign policy muscle that has, at times, proved worrisome. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s “Zero-Problems” foreign policy, which emphasizes regional engagement and outlines an active role in promoting Turkey’s interests on the world stage, is a far cry from Turkey’s past practice of isolating itself from its neighbors. But some of its recent diplomatic forays under this policy, especially the nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran and renewed relations with Syria, have led some in the West to query whether we are losing Turkey.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Turkey on a trip sponsored by the Rumi Forum and discussed the zero-problems policy with officials, parliamentarians, and community leaders, among others. Equally as interesting as learning more about the goals of this new assertiveness, though, was hearing about some of the speed bumps in the process of carrying it out – namely the challenge of working with coalition governments.
At the heart of the zero-problems policy is a desire for peace and stability, goals which political and business leaders alike understandably embrace with vigor. During the trip, contentious issues like Iran and Syria were explained in this context; its diplomacy with Iran helps prevent war in the region, engagement with Syria has economic benefits. Turkey’s desire for stability, though, also requires having stable partners to work with. Divided governments carry an inherent risk of being quite the opposite, and, as such, they constitute a significant impediment for Turkey. (more…)
My visit to Camp Leatherneck and the PRT at Lashkar Gah reinforced that Helmand is the land of extremes. Afghanistan’s largest and longest province, Helmand also produces most of the poppy in Afghanistan — making Helmand province a bigger producer of poppy than any nation in the world save its own.
Helmand is dominated by the Helmand river, which runs north-south from the Kajaki dam near Kandahar to Dishu in the south. The population of Helmand lives off and along the river and its canals and irrigation channels. Helmand’s border with Balochistan, Pashtun tribes, and poppy dominated economy made it largely Taliban controlled — until recently at least.
The mission of Marines in Helmand is to wrest control of the population centers from the Taliban. This is tough counterinsurgency fighting and the Marines have done amazing work turning the tide in key districts of Helmand, though the fight is far from over. The offensive which began with Marjah in 2009 continued district by district into the key towns of the Helmand including Nad Ali, Musa Q’ala, Garmsir, and now Sangin. Taliban resistance hasn’t disappeared by any means (even in Marjah) but don’t underestimate the ability of the Marines to clear and hold. With a density of forces now in place and a dismounted force, the results from the population are visible. People are getting out, engaging in commerce, and talking to Marines about needs and concerns. (more…)
Praseodymium, Gadolinium, Erbium: you may not have heard of them before, but chances are you’ve used them recently. All three are examples of rare earths, the 17 elements occupying the middle of the Periodic Table. Rare earth elements- which, in actuality, are as globally ubiquitous as many other metals- are a critical component of both current and future technologies, helping to create products from cell phones to fiber-optic cables to electric cars.
These elemental tongue-twisters, once only the provenance of scientists and technology manufacturers, have become the object of much attention and speculation from policymakers in the past few weeks, courtesy of China. Although the PRC only has 35% of the world’s rare earth reserves, it has cleverly maneuvered its way into controlling 95% of global supply for the elements, thanks to heavy investment in the industry and a willingness to incur massive levels of environmental pollution while mining them. In the past few months, China has strategically wielded its monopoly as a diplomatic weapon, halting shipments to Japan during the two countries’ nasty territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Now reports say that China is using the same strategy against the U.S. in retaliation for the United States Trade Representative (USTR) accepting a petition alleging that China is subsidizing green energy investment in violation of WTO practices. All in all, it appears that China is beginning to engage in tit-for-tat diplomacy that raises serious questions about its intentions and its ability to behave like the superpower it strives to be. (more…)
Kandahar Air Field is a sprawling ginormous air base south of Kandahar City. It has a dusty acrid industrial feel. The international influence is everywhere. Tim Horton’s (the Canadian equal of Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks) is the best place for coffee and pastry. And why so many hockey rinks? Oh right. Canadians.
My visit to Kandahar is leg one of a two part trip that will also include RC (SW) and Helmand. The purpose of this southern swing is to see how civ-mil relations are up and down the chain of command… From Kabul/ISAF/IJC to the Regional Commands to the Task Forces to the PRTs and DSTs. Effective civ-mil coordination is a key part of the work we do and a critical tenant of COIN. As part of the civilian uplift, State and AID had now sought to parallel the military structure with civilian counterparts at the Regional Command, Task Force, and Battalion level. Was it working?
When a recent candidate in Colorado called a bike program a “well-disguised” plot to turn Denver into a “United Nations community,” it raised a few eyebrows. Unfortunately, it is not the only incident of the U.S. relationship with the United Nations becoming a campaign issue this election season, where a misguided distortion of our foreign policy is used for political ends. Candidates for Senate this year have called for voluntary funding only and the complete withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations.
But a poll released Friday demonstrates these stances are a miscalculation of the American sentiment towards the United Nations. Conducted by a bipartisan polling team, the research revealed that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support the functions of the United Nations. Further, even when it came to the fiscal responsibilities of the U.S., 6 out of 10 Americans support paying dues to the United Nations in full and on time. The bipartisan support for the United Nations from the American public is reflected by our most experienced national security and foreign policy leaders: in a bipartisan statement released in 2008, former Secretaries of State and Defense, Republican and Democrat Senators, and National Security Advisors argued that American investment in the United Nations will “pay off substantially by helping to enhance our standing internationally and strengthen our ability to keep America safe and strong.” (more…)
There are encouraging signs that mil to mil relations between the Pentagon and the PLA are thawing. This week, after a freeze in relations that lasted nearly a year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, at the ASEAN “Plus” Defense Ministerial in Hanoi. At the meeting, Gates received an invitation to visit Beijing, probably sometime in the first half of next year, although the dates still have to be worked out. Separately, there have been reports of a meeting between Chinese and American officials on maritime security in Honolulu. Though limited, these are welcome developments as the Administration lays the groundwork for President Hu’s visit to Washington next year.
But these steps are unlikely to lead to the kind of comprehensive security relationship that the U.S. wants with China. Rather, a form of limited engagement and competition is more likely to be the new norm. The Chinese are still angry over the $6.4 billion arms deal with Taiwan, and they are irritated by U.S. offers to mediate the dispute over the Spratley islands in the South China Sea, which they consider a “core” national interest. This summer’s joint U.S.-South Korean exercises in the East China Sea, did nothing to ease tensions either. Many people in the Chinese leadership feel encircled by the U.S. These moves only reinforce their fears. (more…)
I’m in Kabul! I inspect the city on my drive from the airport. It seems pretty similar to my last visit with one big annoying exception: traffic. There are just more cars on the road now (both Afghan and expat) and the result is close to gridlock. The 30 minute drive from the airport turns into total nightmare as protests at Kabul University completely paralyze Mayor road. We end up bailing out of the car, flagging down a taxi, and heading to the Gandamack for dinner. I suppose traffic is actually a good thing. It either shows that more Afghans are buying cars, more are out and showing confidence in the regime, or the civilian surge has had a secondary effect of gridlock. Overall the impression is a more busy and vibrant Kabul.
Our initial meetings feature a variety of senior civilian and military officials representing State, USAID, ISAF, RC-South, and Task Force Raider. Our discussions go quickly to the issues at hand: are we winning? If so, why? How is the civ-mil collaboration working?
The general consensus from those on the ground is that we are making progress in security and the population is responding at a local level, especially in the south. (more…)
Over the past week, Taliban militants in western Pakistan have bombed and set fire to dozens of tankers carrying oil to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The seemingly daily trend of attacks on NATO fuel supply convoys has been ongoing since Pakistan closed a key border crossing in retaliation to a U.S. helicopter strike within its airspace. This recent surge in violence highlights the increasingly precarious reliance on fossil fuels as the single most critical strategic linchpin of U.S. military success. With the soaring costs – in both dollars and lives – of the military’s dependence on oil becoming ever more apparent, there has never been a more urgent time to accelerate the transition to renewable energy use on the battlefield.
Even before the recent wave of attacks, a study by the Army Environmental Policy Institute found that for every 24 fuel convoys to Iraq or Afghanistan, one soldier or civilian involved in the transport was killed. On top of the risk, the economic costs of the military’s dependence on oil are staggering. Although the military purchases gasoline at a relatively cheap price, transporting a gallon of fuel to a forward operating base can cost up to $400. Moreover, the sheer scale of the military’s energy expenses ($20 billion in 2008) leaves it particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, as just a $10 uptick in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Department of Defense about $1.3 billion. These factors, in addition to the strategic challenges and indirect costs associated with importing foreign-produced oil rather than using American-made renewables, make the military’s current energy practices dangerous, inefficient, and ultimately unsustainable. (more…)
Of the numerous oral and written comments on my Afghan election blog post, ninety percent or so seemed to express a similar sentiment: that it was remiss not to mention that conducting electoral exercise alone is a worthy achievement for Kabul. As one observer colleague wrote in the Richmond Times Dispatch “[t]he simple fact that voting took place at such a scale was significant, given the Taliban’s campaign to intimidate voters or stop elections altogether…Hundreds of other small acts of violence did occur. However, there was no single, massive attack.”
The American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the budding Afghan security services can point to this lack of cataclysmic attack as a positive achievement under extremely difficult circumstances. Regardless, conclusions about the Afghan election should be withheld pending the processing of the thousands of reported allegations of irregularities, affects of widespread intimidation, and the announced results. The Independent Election Commission said Tuesday it was postponing release of the preliminary election results until at least October 17. The true test of the September election, as it is for all elections, is if a parliament can assume office and govern as a legitimate representative of the electorate.
There was some good news from Afghanistan this week. (more…)
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Providing security for major international summits and sporting events is always a bit of a nightmare for host countries. Perhaps even more difficult is managing to actually convince everyone attending that they’ll be safe from the assorted threats of frenzied protesters, terrorists and other various local menaces. As India has recently learned the hard way, it’s much easier to lose the international community’s confidence than to gain it. Collapsing bridges and poisonous snakes hiding in athlete dormitories have turned the Commonwealth games into a national disaster, and not even police efforts of the most unusual sort can redeem the country’s reputation. Not that it’s stopped anyone from trying. The latest police gambit involves determined (and well-publicized) efforts to protect the unsuspecting public from simian hooligans: the New Delhi Municipal Council has reportedly deployed 38 trained Langur monkeys to keep their recalcitrant relatives in line.
It seems that India’s calamity has inspired future host countries to step up their game. Next month’s G20 will be held in South Korea, and the country seems to have taken India’s experience to heart. As the Wall Street Journal‘s slideshow clearly demonstrates, the South Koreans are prepared for any and every security situation that might arise, ranging from your run-of-the-mill violent G20 protesters to sword-wielding Ninja assassins. In short, no task is too much for these men. Need to smash through some boards with your head? Check. Need to slice open a watermelon while blindfolded? No problem. If these photos are anything to go by, the G20 promises to be both a stunning security success and an excellent opportunity for low-budget filmmakers to shoot some free martial arts background footage.
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.