Friday, April 30, 2010

Apologies to all for my absentee blogging.  I'd like to come up with a detailed and sophisticated explanation, but quite simply finals are kicking my ass and I have no free time to sleep, let along blog.

I have quite a list of topics to tackle, starting with my long-overdue response to Mike Wilkerson about the LRA and some thoughts on the latest RAND study.  With any luck I'll be back in the flow next week. 

Until there, here are is a bizarre, insane, and utterly fascinating Vanity Fair story about a born-again American Hells Angel, roaming Sudan and trying to kill Joseph Kony.

(A belated analysis of the Obama Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released on April 5, 2010)

The Obama Nuclear Posture Review is a profoundly political document whose main effect is diplomatic. It makes no major strategic changes to US nuclear doctrine, and the changes it does make are hedged by reservations. The document’s major departure from its predecessor, the Bush Administration’s 2002 NPR, is that of tone. As one reviewer noted, President Obama is no longer brandishing “a nuclear sword in every direction," which is the main legacy of this review.

First to the details. The review eschews a policy that the “sole use” of nuclear weapons is for deterrence, instead declaring that

“The fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, our allies, and partners.
The NPR sends a message to North Korea and Iran, declaring that
"the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
While the US will not use nuclear weapons to counter a chemical weapons attack, the review includes an exception for biological weapons, stating that
"the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and U.S. capacities to counter that threat."
Regarding the contentious issue of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the NPR states that
"The United States will consult with our allies regarding the future basing of nuclear weapons in Europe, and is committed to making consensus decisions through NATO processes."
In essence, although abandoning the bluster of the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration still maintains the right to use nuclear weapons outside of the context of a nuclear attack on the United States, and clearly describes North Korea and Iran as countries for which any assurances do not apply. Although this represents a shift in tone from the Bush years, its strategic impact is minimal. In fact, Stephen Walt has gone so far as to declare that “from a purely strategic perspective, this new statement is largely meaningless.”

Now to the politics. (more after the jump)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beka Feathers
Demagogues and Dictators Afghanistan Parliamentary Analyst

As the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated over the past two years, the public narrative has increasingly resembled a litany of failure: the central government is full of corrupt warlords who are tied to the drug trade, violate human rights with impunity, and are interested in the idea of governance only insofar as they can profit from it. The Afghan National Police are brutal, biased and uninterested in upholding the rule of law. Corrupt officials are becoming more prevalent than opium poppies. As a result, establishing legitimate government has become critical to success in all other areas of the mission in Afghanistan.

In all the fuss about the failures of the central government, however, a surprising success story is being overlooked. The Afghan National Assembly, the country’s highest representative institution, has begun, quietly, to govern. This is a surprise not only because the parliament has long been the forgotten stepchild of the Bonn Process, but also because Karzai and his international allies have done everything possible to prevent the parliament from becoming a strong check to the presidency.

Afghanistan is one of the most centralized countries in the world, and almost everything leads back to Karzai sooner or later. Consider: In Afghanistan, the President has the power to make the budget, pass decrees, hire governors and police chiefs, even to appoint teachers to local schools. Electoral law makes it almost impossible for political parties to operate by forbidding them to organize along any of the nationally recognized identity lines. The international community has largely supported Karzai’s attempts to further consolidate power in his person. The parliament, meanwhile, has lagged behind other government institutions in funding, resources, and capacity.

But starting this year, the parliament seems to have found its feet. Since January, it has challenged Karzai to appoint qualified ministers instead of warlords and cronies, rejected his attempted takeover of the independent Electoral Complaints Commission (the same body that found a third of his votes fraudulent in the election last fall), and refused to serve as a rubber stamp for decrees. In fact, it's been doing what so many outside observers have said is necessary to keep the government from collapsing entirely: serving as a legitimate, Afghan-led check on Karzai's administration.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I have just returned from an exhausting weekend in the woods as a participant in the 2010 Harvard Humanitarian Initiative field simulation.  It was quite a weekend, and between conducting rapid assessments on refugee camps and being ambushed by "militia" I didn't have much time for anything else.

In the next few I days I hope to catch up on the news (and my sleep), and I'm starting with a new report from RAND - How Insurgencies End.  I'll check back in when finished.  Anybody out there with thoughts on this study?

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