News, analysis, reports and everything else about politics, diplomacy and history

Zimbabwe: The Countdown for Mugabe’s Succession

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Written by Matteo Figus

09/03/2014 at 22:00

Posted in Africa, Analysis

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Ariel Sharon Death: A Controversial but Historic Figure

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The death of Ariel Sharon, a key figure in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, has been received with mixed feelings and opens many questions about his legacy. As only popular figures can be, controversy always surrounds their achievements, in a mix of lights and shadows, greatness and misfortunes, Sharon has linked his name in many ways as a military general or as a politician.

Ariel Sharon, born as Ariel Scheinermann, started his career in the paramilitary groups that can be considered the precursors of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Soon he made the marks as a genial strategist and commander, capable of unexpected actions and great achievements; nonetheless, he also showed another element that will always characterize his figure, whether as a soldier or a politician, insubordination and a tendency to force state of things not always following orders from above.

Sharon fought three wars, Independence (1948), Six-Day (1967) and Yom Kippur (1973), plus actions in the Suez Crisis and other skirmishes, and in all of them he showed, under a military point of view, incredible resources, strategic brilliancy and ruthlessness. During the Six-Day War some of his manoeuvres, such the ones that led to attack Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula by simultaneously attacks in small forces has been regarded as one of the most influential innovations in military strategy at the time. During the Yom Kippur War (1973), when Sharon was already retired to join the Likud party, he was recalled due to the disastrous results of the IDF military campaign, receiving the lead of the forces to reconquer the lost Sinai. He mastermind the amphibious attack on the Egyptian forces known as “Operation Gazelle” which led to the isolation of the Third Egyptian Army and considered the salvation of Israel from a certain lost war.

Israel has therefore regarded him as a national hero and defender of the sacred borders, but Sharon;’s history has also another side that links with the Palestinian and Arab perspectives. Along his fearless and ruthless action during the numerous military actions Sharon made his mark in Palestinian minds especially as a politician,  paradoxically. Soon after retiring from the army, he made special recommendations to Begin on the necessity, during the years 1975-1981, to increase Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories . On his settlement policy, Sharon said while addressing a meeting of the Tzomet party: “Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. … Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”

By supporting Begin’s government election, Sharon received in 1981 the post of Minister of Defence, linking forever his name to a page of history that will never be forgotten. During the bloodiest Lebanon Civil War, in 1982, the Sabra and Shatila massacre occurred between 16 and 18 September. Between 762 and 3,500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites, in the refugee camps were killed by the Phalanges Lebanese Maronite Christian militias, sent in to clear the camps from PLO fighters while Israeli forces surrounded the camps, blocking exits and providing logistical support. The killings led some to label Sharon “the Butcher of Beirut”.

The investigative Kahan Commission (1982) found the Israeli Defence Forces indirectly responsible for the massacre, although was established that no direct participation of IDF soldiers in the massacre occurred. Nevertheless, the commission recognized the Phalangist unit as responsible and acting on its own but whose entry was known to Israel and approved by Sharon. The Commission also concluded that the defense minister, Sharon, was personally responsible for not taking necessary measures to avoid the massacre. Following the verdict Sharon was forced to resign, although reluctantly, starting the darkest era of his career.

After this Sharon made a comeback in 2000 when, following years of renewed tensions in the Palestinian territories, he made the famous al Aqsa Walk that ultimately led to the Second Intifada. Whether planned or unintentional, this was a typical provocation that infuriating the Palestinian Authority and Arafat led to a four years bloody conflict. Nevertheless, Sharon in the years as Prime Minister showed along the above ruthless and crude calculations also unexpected overtures: swinging from isolating and undermining Arafat’s authority until hid death, only to find then himself surrounded by hostile terrorists groups now acting freely and without a control, Sharon decided to overturn his appeasement of settlements by declaring an unitlateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. While his decision to withdraw from Gaza sparked bitter protests from members of the Likud party and the settler movement, opinion polls showed that it was a popular move among most of the Israeli electorate with more than 80% of Israelis backing the plans. But ultimately this split the party and Sharon left Likud to found a new party, Kadima. When Sharon was caught by a series of strokes and left in a coma in 2005, he was pursuing a new disengagement plan, likely to anger nationalist but to please  Palestinians and pacifists in Israel and around the world now wary of years of senseless conflicts.

His death after 8 years in a limbo state, have reopen to many memories and  nightmares, bitter fightings, admiration, and even sparked celebrations. Sharon, whatever is the angle or the point of view, has been a figure that linked great achievement but also accusations of serious crimes, closures and provocations as well as important diplomatic steps and even clamorous overtures.

Sharon will be remembered as a national hero in Israel, where in 2005 was voted the 8th-greatest Israeli of all time, and as the Butcher of Beirut from Arabs and Palestinian people, because history cannot be rewritten and this double identity will always accompany his legacy, and at the same time, without any doubts, Sharon will remain a key figures of the 20th Century and modern history of Middle East.

Written by Matteo Figus

13/01/2014 at 19:44

Ukraine: Europeanism Utopia and Russia’s Security Paranoia

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The Ukrainian protests against government’s decision to not sign an EU agreement melted in just few days, but was it really only an internal matter or was just another episode of the saga Putin vs West?

It is now clear that was never at stake the interest of the Ukrainian people but political gains and economic benefits behind the interests of such powers. Ukraine, as Georgia in the past, is a fertile ground to gauge the pressure of the tensions between Russia and the West, and once again, to the dismay of the latter, Putin won.

Ukraine economy is a mess, near to collapse, needed a bail out regardless on whoever will grant it, so why there was this attention to pull Ukraine on either sides? The answer is simply European hypocrisy and Russia’s vital space paranoia.

The EU jumped on the protests claiming that Ukrainian people were behind a popular protest to join the EU, that their will was betrayed and Yanukovich change mind after Russia’s blackmailing. All this may be true, and it is no surprise for a poor country to see people cherishing the idea of free travel to countries better off, as also it is no surprise that Russia used all its weight to sink the agreement. However, what is wrong is that not all Ukraine was behind the protest and that all the country supports an EU access. While the western regions, rich in agriculture in what was the granary of Soviet Union, support strong links with the West, on the other the Eastern areas and the Donbass, the powerhouse of heavy industry always had strong ties with Russia. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions has its stronghold in eastern Ukraine and it is no surprise that he also had to put an ear on that side.

The problem for Ukraine and the EU is that Russia will never allow in such proximity to lose its control either politically and economically. Russia at the end triumphed, with Kiev’s government accepting a $15 billion bailout, with cheaper gas prices and the promise to accelerate the accession to the Russian version of the EEA, a  custom union with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Has Ukraine therefore lost? Not really, as said either ways Ukraine was going to receive a bailout, but the problem connected with this is that nothing comes for free and whether EU or Russia, Kiev has now linked itself to a strong dependence, by chosing to do not irritate the strongest side.

Nevertheless, if Ukraine calculations were based on purely economic data and immediate needs, what moved EU, Russia and even US was totally different: balance of power.

The EU jumped into this dispute denouncing Russia’s interference and “acting” with its fake paternalism in a time where the Union has its lowest approval index by the population of state members and where crescent nationalism is advancing in many countries requests for an exit referendum.  Nevertheless, the EU cannot be trusted, it uses bail outs to control governments’ policies, it is the most undemocratic organisation and what benefits really could have from Ukraine’s accession? The benefit was to bail out another government and impose IMF/BCE controlling policies to gain the most from a no competitive market which would have been a “colony” for western economies in crisis. Cheap labor would have offered the chance to struggling companies to cut workforce in their home countries to reopen across the borders, and while they present Bruxelles in such pan-European dream on the other we can see Cameron’s UK trying to introduce changes to migrants from Romania and Bulgaria in an attempt to please nationalists of the UK Independence Party. Another reason that would have well suited Bruxelles was to introduce another bigger country which would have altered balance in the EU Parliament, a message to the fellow British partners.

But while on one side the EU showed its hypocrisy, on the other the US got involved only to pinpoint Russia’s rediscovered power and any plan that undermine or limit Putin’s influence it is always welcomed in Washington. Plan for a missile shield are back on the table, Russia’s involvement  in Middle East has irritated many governments and after the Snowden affair, US-Russia relations are getting sour quickly enough to foresee a 2014 rich in similar tit for tat actions. Russia, for history, ethnic-religious ties and economic reasons pursued and will always pursue a politic of self-defence and retake control of its vital space. Russia, and the USSR before, always lived in the paranoia of the constant threat of an invasion or isolation to starve the country, and today this is still visible in Putin relentless new strategy to keep at bay any intruder in  the eastern side. Whether blackmailing the fragile Ukrainian government, or supporting eastern region ties (basically threatening a dangerous rift), by placing missiles in Kaliningrad, by intervening in Syria and Iran issues turning the table against western plans, Putin is achieving slowly the task of rebuilding a stronger Russia and defend its autonomy of action. But is it all roses for Russia in bailing out such an economy in crisis? Obviously not, but Russia’s strategy has always been to achieve the task with whatever methods and at the end by extending control over economy in Ukraine, Putin reasserted its political control over the area, demonstrating once again the weightless spirit of the EU as international power. Russia nevertheless, by taking on its side Kiev’s fragile economy and offering to cover debts may be pushed into a finance black hole, and Moscow’s economy will have to be strong enough in the next years to make sure that this agreement will not backfire.

The reality is that Ukraine is one of those countries that will always struggle to balance itself, but until you will have a Russia this powerful, inevitably it will fall under a particular sphere of influence. The Russian achievement in Ukraine is the defeat of EU hypocrisy, but it is not a total victory as Western powers will find another way to limit Putin’s attempts to  a system restore to Yalta’s configuration. Nevertheless, there is enough in Moscow to cheer and Putin can celebrate by even allowing himself to show total control and confidence in his absolute power by  freeing Mikhail Kodorkovsly and granting amnesty to the Pussy Riot members. A lesson to learn, another missed opportunity for the West to understand Russia’s new path with an old map.

Written by Matteo Figus

24/12/2013 at 18:16

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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Today we are giving our last salute to Nelson Mandela, one of the most influential and inspiring figure in history. Mandela, symbol of the struggle for freedom, for peace and reconciliation, for equality and progress, has dedicated his entire life to these ideals paying a high price for being able to see the end of Apartheid. Independently on the views, political orientations or nationality no one can deny the impact that Mandela had in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st, leaving a legacy and a heavy inheritance which will not be easy to fulfill for all of us._71640387_020287142-1

Everything has been said and discussed on Mandela’s life, a man of different roles: an attorney, a revolutionary, a rebel, a military commander, a politician and ideologist, a prisoner, president and later retired but an active campaigner and guardian for his country. Mandela grew up in a continent enslaved by colonialism and then ravaged by civil wars, military coups and brutal regimes; above all the Apartheid regime of white South Africa was identified by Mandela not only as the reason to struggle for freedom to black South Africans, but he also identified a wider struggle for all Africans to achieve their complete independence.

For these ideals the ANC and many party leaders were imprisoned, tortured physically and psychologically, while people suffered an appalling brutality from which the world took some time to wake up. Sharpeville, Soweto and other tragedies and massacres cannot be forgotten and Mandela helped in making the struggle for freedom going global. During the crucial years, when Mandela was in prison, he never gave up his ideals and ultimate goal: end of Apartheid, complete freedom for its people and independence. Methods on how to achieve this alternated in his mind and strategy, from initial peaceful resistance to the acceptance of violence to liberate themselves, because Mandela was after all an able strategist and, as all the leaders of a national liberation movement, was immersed in a world that was divided along Cold War allegiances. If the apartheid regime was strong and brutal, in defiance of all condemnations, was not only for its internal strengths but also because the white South Africa was the ring of a strong chain in Austral Africa designed to counter attack the rising Marxist movements of liberation. South Africa was along with Ian Smith’s South Rhodesia and Mobutu’s Zaire a bastion against communism, a brutal alliance against all other movements such ANC, SWAPO, MNLA, FRELIMO, ZANU and ZAPU in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. During those years some countries, that today cry and hail Mandela as a national hero, were on the other side of the barricades.

Nevertheless, Mandela on its liberation day never showed any sign of revenge or desire to impose a black dictatorship, he made a gesture that 9 out of 10 men in his situation would have never done: forgiveness and reconciliation. Whether acceptable or not, like the controversial general amnesty by forgiving all crimes  on each side, Mandela on this showed his greatness not only under a humanitarian spirit but also, politically speaking, as a true leader; he understood that a civil war would have destroyed South Africa for ever, and examples in the continent are not uncommon, tribalism would have ravaged communities and foreign intervention would have replaced white power as the new master. Mandela’s choices have always been a sapient, pragmatic and strategic choice with an ultimate beneficiary: the people of South Africa as a whole. This is what his legacy leaves, a leader that like many others has pursued his goals and even taken unprecedented measures, but with the difference that he always had at the centre of his mind one goal: to give freedom and power to all people, regardless race, language or religion.

Critics are not mistaken in highlighting some failings, after all Mandela was a man, but never in our history we have assisted to such dignity and power of  action, without arms, like in Mandela. He leaves today a South Africa that has to face many problems: poverty, crime, integration of communities, Aids, and will be now up to President Zuma and the leadership of ANC to follow up his steps. The absence of Mandela, a man of unity and great charisma, will be missed, as well as world leaders have lost a powerful voice and living reminder of their responsibilities and duties.

His legacy is that the struggle against poverty, abuse, oppression and freedom can be pursued by leaders if they have the honesty and integrity to pursue these ideals whatever the price with only one interests, the wellbeing of their people.

Written by Matteo Figus

10/12/2013 at 12:46

DR Congo: M23 Rebellion Ends and Its Consequences

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Rebels of the M23 group declared the end of insurgency in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo following government announcement of military victory. The M23 move generated a wave of hope for Congolese people and the international community that finally this troubled country could achieve peace at last. However, it also received cautious reception given especially past examples and the complexity of the issues that surround Congolese politics.DR Congo

M23 in a statement said that it was ceasing any military activity and pursuing its goals by political means, also urging the remaining fighters to disarm and demobilise. The move followed government offensive that since October was targeting the rebel bases. Although it may look like a purely military operation result, the end of hostilities was part of a more structured plan devised by the involved parties in months of negotiations. The latest agreement signed by African leaders in Pretoria invited the M23 rebels to make public their intentions to depose arms to allow the Congolese government to draft its peace plan for demobilisation and reintegration. Therefore this announcement shows that M23 rebels are complying with the summit resolution.

The summit nonetheless opened some questions on the real impact and role of other regional powers; while Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni was present at the summit, the absence of his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, was quite visible, although represented by his foreign minister. Rwanda has been accused openly by DRC and UN of supplying M23 with arms and money.

The Congolese army declared that many rebel forces have been disarmed, captured or surrendered, with some fleeing across the borders with Uganda and Rwanda. It also announced that those who will not disarm will be crushed by force. The military breakthrough started in October when the Congolese army stepped up its offensive against the rebels, with the support of tanks and helicopters from a UN intervention brigade. At least 800,000 people have fled their homes since the M23 took up arms in 2012 but several other armed groups still operate in the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.

The defeat of M23 if on one side opens a new scenario, on the other it also leave to the government a difficult task in dealing with insurgencies. The government is aware that this victory will not solve all problems and that there is still possibility that those who escaped can resort to hit-and-run operations. The government nonetheless is making the most of its positive moment by threatening the other rebel groups, inviting them to surrender or to be suppressed by force. The main threat for Kinshasa is represented by the Rwandan Hutu Forces Démocratiques deLlibération du Rwanda (FDLR) militias which have been the real centre piece in this puzzle that is DRC conflict. Rwanda has always justified its intervention, or backing of armed rebels, because of the connivance or incapacity of the DRC government to destroy FDLR forces.DR Congo Militias

M23 origins and Rwanda’s links

The M23 has been the most active group since April 2012 and posed serious threats to DRC stability. Made up of ethnic Tutsi, like Rwanda’s leaders, has often been speculated that it was supported militarily and financially by Kigali’s government, although Rwanda rejected these claims. The origins can be traced from the action related to the forces of General Laurent Nkunda who, accusing the Congolese government of not doing enough to destroy FDLR Hutu militia, decided to challenge both openly, arriving to clash even against the UN forces. The Congolese government accused Rwanda of backing Gen. Nkunda, who arrived to threaten the capital of North Kivu, Goma, in 2009. Nevertheless, in the same year, a deal was reached by DRC and Rwanda to fight against FDLR and disarm the Tutsi rebels of general Nkunda; as part of the deal, Gen. Nkunda was taken out of the country and put under house arrest in Rwanda, where he remains.

However, it soon appeared clear that Congolese government troops, backed by thousands of UN peacekeepers, have failed to defeat the FDLR rebels. Reports of mass rapes, killings and other atrocities committed by rebels and government troops continued to alarm Rwanda. The deal between DR Congo and Rwanda inevitably collapsed, and a new group, the M23, largely made up of former Nkunda loyalists, started military operations in eastern DR Congo in 2012. The DR Congo government has repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the M23. The group was initially said to have been led by Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, but earlier this year, after heavy fighting broke out between rebel factions of the M23 he fled to the US embassy in Rwanda. The former Congolese army general then surrendered to the International Criminal Court to face trial in The Hague on war crimes charges. A UN panel investigating the conflict says M23 leaders “receive direct military orders” from Rwanda’s chief of defence staff, Gen Charles Kayonga, “who in turn acts on instructions from the minister of defence”, Gen James Kabarebe. It also says that Kigali has supplied the M23 with heavy weapons and recruitment, all allegations that President Paul Kagame has strongly denied.

Rwanda’s involvement in DRC conflict is not new and not even the only one as the history of this giant teach; however it is without doubt that its influence is the key to unlock the conflict and bring stability.

A History of Foreign Interference, Interventions and Plunder

DR Congo is the second biggest country in Africa for extension and extremely rich in natural resources: diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, zinc, it supplies coltan, which is used in mobile phones and other electronic gadgets, and cassiterite, used in food packaging. This double extraordinary dimension has been paradoxically the reason of its misfortune: vast resources attracted exploiters, unscrupulous companies, foreign powers, warlords and rebels; on the other the vast geographical dimension has incorporated a mosaic of ethnic groups that although had lived in the areas for centuries have been soon exploited for political means in proxy wars and ethnic clashes. On the centre of this puzzle sit the Congolese government that since independence has been characterised by widespread corruption, inability of managing the vast resources, to bring unity and to abandon its population.

In the early 20th Century, Congo was conquered by Belgian forces with King Leopold ruling the country as it was personal property. One of the most brutal and retrograde colonialism took form until a struggle for independence eventually achieved its goal in 1960. Patrice Lumumba was appointed prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu president. However, the peace was short lived as Lumumba, accused to be a communist and to steer the country towards socialism, was dismissed by president Kasavubu, while sections of the army mutinied and Moise Tshombe declared the independence of the mining rich Katanga region. Belgian troops were sent in to protect Belgian citizens and mining interests while UN Security Council, although voting to send in troops to help establish order was unable to act as troops were not allowed to intervene in internal affairs. Following the arrest and the murder of Lumumba in 1961, reportedly with US and Belgian complicity, UN troops finally intervened to disarm Katangese soldiers. Only in 1963 Tshombe agrees to end Katanga’s secession and in 1964 President Kasavubu appointed Tshombe prime minister as part of a reconciliation plan.Patrice Lumumba

The re-achieved unity in reality did not comfort external powers, still worried of a weak country that could easily become a fertile terrain for Soviet backed operation or Marxist guerrilla fighters, as demonstrated by Che Guevara’s attempt in 1965. In this optic Mobutu’s rise to power corresponded to the logic of the Cold War to appease a brutal and questionable ruler, but effective in being a bastion against communism. Joseph Mobutu seized power in 1965, crushing internal rebellions, unifying the nation and renaming the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko, Katanga became Shaba and the river Congo became the River Zaire. Mobutu’s Zaire was, along with the white minority rule states of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, a stronghold in counterattacking the Marxist liberation movements of MPLA in Angola, FRELIMO in Mozambique, ANC in South Africa and SWAPO in Namibia, while supporting the rivals UNITA and RENAMO, as well as obtaining US and Chinese support in anti-Soviet stance.  Mobutu unchallenged power started to crumble in front of the crescent economic problems, but especially after 1990 due to the changed international scenario following the end of the Cold War. In 1993 rival pro and anti-Mobutu governments were created, but it will be 1994 the crucial year for the modern history of Congo-Zaire.Mobutu

After Rwanda’s genocidal Hutu regime was overthrown, more than two million Hutus are thought to have fled into DR Congo fearing reprisals against them by the new Tutsi-dominated government. Among them were many responsible for the genocide. They quickly allied themselves with Mobutu’s government and began to attack DR Congo’s population of ethnic Tutsis. Rwanda’s Tutsi government started to back rival militias, fighting both the Hutu militias and pro Mobutu Congolese government troops. In May 1997 Tutsi and other anti-Mobutu rebels, aided principally by Rwanda, captured the capital, Kinshasa, and Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo with Laurent-Desire Kabila installed as president. But Kabila failed to expel the Hutu militia, as Rwanda was hoping, and Kigali organised a punitive measure to oust the president.

In August 1998 rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, rose up against Kabila and advanced on Kinshasa after capturing much of east DR Congo. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola sent troops to repel them and assist Kabila. The war, that will last five years, has been named the First World African War. During the five years’ war, President Kabila is assassinated by a bodyguard in January 2001, and succeeded by his son Joseph. The UN Security Council authorised a 5,500 strong UN force to monitor a ceasefire signed in 1999 in Lusaka, but fighting continued between rebels, once former allies, Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) supported by Uganda and Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD) backed by Rwanda, between rebels and government forces, and between Rwandan and Ugandan forces. Only in 2003 the war ended when the last Ugandan troops left DRC. The peace deal signed in South Africa between the Kinshasa government and main rebel groups gave to their commanders and opposition members portfolios in an interim government.Laurent Kabila

After the war, DRC struggled to find peace, threatened by continuous military rebellions and rebels attacks. In 2004 and 2011 reported coups failed in Kinshasa, while in the east fighting between the Congolese army and renegade soldiers from a former pro-Rwanda rebel group started evolving in the birth of the M23 rebellion.

The DRC Puzzle: Internal Deficiencies and External Influences

Congolese army victory can find explanations on both military and political basis. The army after the embarrassing Goma’s defeat by M23 rebels, was reorganised by Kabila in an attempt to bring discipline and organisation to a fighting force that has always been identified with poor training, corruption and disorganisation. The army has often been accused of atrocities not less serious than the ones committed by rebel groups, undermined by mutinies and rebellions based on ethnic lines or money allegiances. Kabila’s efforts seems to have brought some fruits as no abuses have been reported in the recent campaign and valuable, if not decisive, was the support from the UN forces. However, now that victory has been achieved over the M23 rebels, the question mark is whether DRC will be able to crush the other groups that still operate in eastern Congo. The government lacks founds, equipment and resources to ensure a bright future without selling out its rich materials to the next “friend”. The UN assistance shows that the Congolese army desperately needs support from a well-trained force, and that its presence represents also the best control over abuses committed by Congolese soldiers. Kabila will need to ensure therefore that the army not only will be equipped but also disciplined to avoid that human rights abuses can offer any further reason for external interventions. Beside the purely military operations, Kabila will need to strengthen his political weight and strategy; in the past we assisted to rebellions being crushed and followed by general amnesties that lead to rebel commanders reorganising their armies or planning coup d’états. Kabila will need to balance government’s response as to ensure that rebels should be protected when they had disarmed, but those guilty of serious crimes should not be given an amnesty. In this optic it is crucial the cooperation of the Congolese government with the International Criminal Court as a mean of legitimization and justice towards the victims of warlords.Joseph Kabila

The UN forces shared with the Congolese government the shame of leaving Goma without defences, powerless in assisting crimes and violations not only by M23, but with a long history of overlooks in the years of instability of DRC. The UN peacekeeping mission has been in DR Congo since 1999, at the time of the First World African War, and it is one of the biggest peacekeeping operations in the world, with almost 20,000 personnel on the ground. Its mandate is to protect civilians, help with the reconstruction of the country, assist the democratic process in organising elections and has launched military operations against various rebel groups. Nevertheless, UN has been accused of inability in containing the violence and protect civilians from human rights abuses. In 2009 a report by UN-commissioned experts acknowledge these accusations, with rebels continuing to kill and plunder natural resources with impunity, supported by criminal organisations in Africa, Western Europe and North America. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the UN of becoming complicit in atrocities against civilians citing the example of August 2010, when the UN force was accused of not doing enough to stop the rape of more than 150 women and children within miles of their base near Luvungi. To reflect a change on its status, the UN force changed its name from the UN Organisation Mission in DR Congo, known as MONUC, to the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission, MONUSCO. This led the UN forces to back actively the Congolese army with tanks and helicopters in attacking rebel bases as well as increasing operations of surveillance. It is expected that the UN mission will soon have drones that will offer better insight into rebel movements and arms supplies.

Along military and logistic advantages, the Congolese government knows that its rich resources make DRC the centre of appetites from different countries, African and non. Rwanda and Uganda have been identified as the two major players in this saga. UN investigators and Congolese officials have accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the M23 and other rebel groups. Both governments deny the allegations. Both countries have helped the rebellion that ultimately led to Mobutu’s regime collapse, but soon after, although for different reasons, they turned against Kinshasa.

Uganda has been often accused of supporting rebels to achieve resources and control east Congo, sometimes taking as justification actions to chase Lord’s Resistance Army rebels seeking refuge across the border with DRC. Uganda for example was the last country to leave DRC following the peace plan after the five years war in 2003; nevertheless the mood seems to have changed in recent years following Kampala’s offer in hosting talks between Kinshasa and the M23 as well as joint military operations to destroy LRA rebel bases in Congo.

But if Uganda seems to be a problem on a way to solution, it is the small Rwandan Tutsi government that rise concerns, being the most powerful and directly interested in DRC dynamics. Like Uganda, Rwanda has supported the overthrow of Mobutu, mostly for chasing the remnants of Hutu militias responsible for genocide. Kigali strategy was to install a friendly government in Kinshasa to block and wipe out the Hutu army known as FDLR. Since the war in 1998, this has been the main reason advocated by Rwanda for any direct military intervention or indirect backing of Tutsi rebellions in DRC to undermine and pressure Kinshasa government for a more effective stance against Hutu rebels. The M23, for example, has been widely speculated to be financed and armed by Rwanda and, although Kigali denies, UN, DRC and International Criminal Court acknowledge this involvement. But a question arises, why then M23 have been defeated in such short time if they enjoyed this support? Having considered the military operations led by DRC and UN, it is without doubt that Kigali stepped down its supports to the group. On one side this has always been part of Rwanda’s strategy: alternating strong pressure on DRC and offer assistance to ease rebellions. Often this overture has played a twofold strategy: a propaganda measure to distance Kigali’s government from the international outcry for supporting barbarous warlords and also to blackmail Kinshasa in acting more decisively against FDLR. Taking into account the above, still there is another reason that led to Rwanda’s change towards M23 rebels: US role. In the past US military gave greater support to Paul Kagame regime, especially when Kabila during the war in 1998-2003 called in troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, all countries that had no friendly relations with Washington during their independence struggle and clashed against white minority rule governments. However, in recent years the US have changed policy: they are seeking to cultivate relations with Angola; Zimbabwe seems to have been abandoned from their agenda, as Mugabe is more interested in staying attached to his power rather than pursue military adventures; international pressure versus Tutsi militias made difficult to justify Rwanda backing now that collusion and support have been uncovered. The US has since withdrawn that military support, accusing Kigali of backing the M23 rebels, believed to use child soldiers and being responsible for atrocities.

Ultimately it is clear that if Kabila and DR Congo wish to bring to an end this long history of blood, the moment could not have been more favourable. Nevertheless, the Congolese government will need to act decisively in sorting its armed forces to transform them in a loyal and reliable force. The task is not easy for a country destroyed by years of conflicts, and in a continent where it is not unusual to see armies defecting or rebelling. DRC share the common malaise of governments being “hostages” of their own armies, and similarity can be seen with another giant, Nigeria. Both countries have an ethnic and religious diversity that often has been source of conflict and clashes manipulated by politicians or military sectors. However, Nigeria has a strong military apparatus that maintained a sort of unity along the years, preferring to occupy the political scene by coups and accusing politicians to be destroyer of the harmony and peaceful coexistence between tribes. DR Congo instead appears on the other side of the spectrum, with on one hand an army incapable of loyalty and constantly split by the whims of unsatisfied commanders and on the other with a central government powerless in controlling the territory. Kinshasa will need in addition to sort the other rebel groups, starting from the FDLR, as the only way to pacify the country, and eliminate any interference from Rwanda and other neighbouring countries. It is this double dimension, government-military relation and internal security that could unlock the situation; however, until now it has been like the dog who bites its tail.

South Korea’s Hyunmoo: A Guardian of the Northern Sky or its Destroyer?

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On 1 October 2013, South Korea held an impressive military parade to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces, seen by many as a visible warning to deter provocations from North Korea. During the parade, South Korea publicly displayed for the first time newly locally-developed cruise missiles: the Hyunmoo-2, with a range of 500 kilometres, and the Hyunmoo-3, with a range of 1,000 kilometres.

Hyunmoo: Building South Korea Response to the North

Hyunmoo (Hangul: 현무, literally means “Guardian of the Northern Sky“) refers to a series of missiles developed and deployed by South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development. The origin of the ballistic programme for these series can be traced to 1982, when it was first successfully tested.Hyunmoo 1

The programme however did not developed swiftly due to internal political issues and US interference in keeping under control the process, and during the 90’s was almost abandoned. However, a new era started in 2000 and the programme resumed mainly due to the North Korean increased hostility.

The new Hyunmoo missiles were slightly different from the original project, although developed from them, and classed as improved versions of  Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles in response to North Korea’s Scud-B and Nodong-1 missiles. The Nike Hercules-based missiles had a range of only 180-300 kilometres, but with increased speed for a fast response.

The programme, along with the tests, accelerated from 2003 when South Korea reported to the US the wish to proceed with the development of a cruise missile programme. The new programme developed a land-attack missile codenamed Cheon Ryong (Sky Dragon) or Hyunmoo, with the first test on 25 October 2006. The new test series included a missile called “Eagle-1” or Hyunmoo 3A, with a range of 500 kilometres, and an “Eagle-2” or Hyunmoo 3B, with a range of 1,000 kilometres. A third model, called Hyunmoo 3C or “Eagle-3“, would be capable of striking its target up to 1,500 kilometres away. In 2009, the Hyunmoo series was upgraded with the versions 2A and 2B capable of a range of 300 and 500 Km, and the series 3A and 3B with a range of 500 and 1000 km.

The last stage of development came in April 2012 when South Korean army Major General Shin Won-sik, announced that South Korea was deploying a new cruise missile capable of hitting targets anywhere in North Korea. It is widely considered that General Shin was referring to the Hyunmoo 3C with a range estimated in 1,000-1500 km. This new cruise missile was recently unveiled, named Hyunmoo-3, it is very similar to the American Tomahawk and has an increased range of 1,500 km.South Korea's new cruise missiles Hyunmoo-3 and Hyunmoo-2 are displayed during events to mark the 65th anniversary of Armed Forces Day, in Seongnam


Hyunmoo Missiles (Model, Range and Derivation)

Hyunmoo-1, 180 km, modified Baekgom

Hyunmoo-2A, 300 km, modified Hyunmoo-1 and SS-21

Hyunmoo-2B, 500 km, modified Hyunmoo-2A

Hyunmoo-3A, 500 km

Hyunmoo-3B, 1,000 km, modified Hyunmoo-3A

Hyunmoo-3C, 1,500 km, modified Hyunmoo-3B


Analysis: A Message Beyond Pyongyang

South Korea had joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2001, but this did not prohibit members from producing such missiles. The agreement with the US prior to 2001 prevented South Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction, and they never agreed to the development of long-range missiles. The US policy had generally been cautious in avoiding an escalation in the peninsula and tried to keep South Korean defences as strong as a possible instead. However, it is now clear that not only the South Koreans developed these missiles in contrast with the US, but also that these are not a defensive measure. The new missile is able to reach not only North Korea but also Japan, China and Russia. Therefore a question arises, what is the real message and significance of the South Korean move?Hyunmoo Range

South Korea’s display of power represents a clear signal that tensions in the Korean peninsula are only dormant and in first instance it is clear the message sent to Pyongyang: South Korea has the capability to develop an indigenous ballistic technology, and it is also capable to defend itself. Often North Korea claimed its advantage on the basis of the superior ballistic armament and a nationalist pride in producing these weapons with local engineering. One of main accusations from the Stalinist regime is to depict South Korea and Japan as “stooges of the American imperialism”, two puppets unable to defend themselves without Washington support. This parade was therefore a signal to Pyongyang that a power display is not an exclusive Kim’s dynasty mark, and that Seoul will respond accordingly to any threat from the North.

Nevertheless, there is more than a North Korean counter-propaganda display, as it also signals a change in US policy towards South Korea. It represents an  “all clear” from Washington to the development of new armaments and it is a message that South Korea can also strike the North without US intervention. It seems that this “koreanisation” of the issue, by shifting towards an intra-Korean armament race, will also highlight the dangers that will inevitably arise at next tension between the two Korea. An armament  race will endanger, instead of stabilise, the peninsula and whilst North Korea will not renounce in building its nuclear deterrent, the risk is that South Korean steps toward a ballistic counterbalance will increase the risk of confrontation, therefore making nearly impossible the task of demilitarisation. If we add that skirmishes and military incident are not uncommon, mostly due to Pyongyang’s recklessness, the South renewed power could back fire by escalating a conflict of disastrous consequences.

Nonetheless, the new display inevitably has also a third dimension: anger indirectly the other main power in the dispute, China.  Although China is the main ally of North Korea, and it is clear that it will not certainly risk a war for the “tantrums” of this unhappy child, it is also true that Beijing sees the Asian-Pacific area as its sphere of influence. An increasing American interest and military building has been noted in recent years. This has been done in two ways: direct shifting of military resources and strengthening traditional allies. The US have clearly appeased all countries involved in the South China Sea, by strengthening their military forces:  Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Philippines. This latest move by Seoul it is also a message to China that Washington is acting behind the scene by building a powerful containment that from Japan links to South East Asia, where recent changes in US policy lead to renewed talks with Vietnam and further than this area, with Chinese arch-enemy India.

The Hyunmoo, by including Pyongyang within range, it has also the effect to attract a wider area that inevitably demonstrate that the Korean peninsula is a stage of a much larger battlefield involving several powers that could erupt in the near future.

Written by Matteo Figus

07/10/2013 at 22:12

The US-Russia Syrian Plan: A System Restore

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The recent US-Russia plan on Syria chemical weapons, approved unanimously at the UN Security Council, has been hailed as a step forward in the resolution of this bloody civil war and at the same time as a milestone of international diplomacy. In reality what represent this plan? Is it really a convergence on a humanitarian and security issue? At a closer look the plan represent a “system restore” to the logic of equilibrium of powers and a return to the superpowers balance since the end of the Cold War.Kerry and Lavrov

In restoring this configuration contributed many factors: from military to security reasons, from international diplomacy to national interests, from wrong calculations to crude real politik; however, this could not have happened without the two major powers involvement: US and Russia. If the American duo Obama/Kerry played the card of a military threat and at the same leaving ajar the door for Russian proposals, on the other the duo Putin/Lavrov was the one who forced the system restore.

Russian Rebuilding: A Putin’s Legacy

Since Putin made his appearance in the international scenario in 1999, Russian role has changed dramatically, from the anarchy and passive stance of the Yeltsin years to the aggressive and old soviet rhetoric of recent ones. The Balkans Wars, which culminated with the bombing of Yugoslavia following the Kosovo War, were the last time Russia accepted passively a western influence and action with disregard for Russian interests. Russia was at the time a country rebuilding itself, militarily and economically, relegated in the international scenario to a role of an old and prestigious power but without any real and serious challenge to put forward. Putin reconstructed Russian forces slowly and today is again a powerful military machine, a strong economic state and has a substantial influence in international politics. If the war on terror, that culminated with US invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq, was condemned in part by Putin, on the other offer to him the possibility to liquidate on the same basis the Chechen rebellion, and to keep the US “busy” in other areas. The turning point, when the passive Russia start to show the teeth, has been the 2008 Georgian War, following an ill pondered and miscalculated action by Georgian President Saakashvili that led to the Russian blitzkrieg. That was the first time, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Russian military forces were actively engaged in a major military operation.

The signal to the West was clear, however not really understood or undermined by many. Since then Putin’s action has been clearly designed in regaining Russian control of its vital space and avoid western influence: USAID operations in Russia have been closed and today is one of the major financer for different countries, plans for the missile shield in Eastern Europe forgotten. Nevertheless, if Libya was seen as a “mistake” or wrong calculation by Russia in abstaining at the UNSC, in reality Putin/Medvedev did not have, as everybody else, any interest in helping a discredited leader such Gaddafi. This position somewhat mislead the West in thinking that Russia will once again push over on the issue of Syria, that once challenged with western threat of military intervention, Russian voice although critic will never be followed by a real action. Today is well clear that this is not the case.

Putin/Lavrov: Challenge the US by Isolating Other Powers

Syria is not a formal Russian ally, but on the same time is a key area of interest due to; past links during the cold war, when Assad’s father Hafiz, the Lion of Damascus, was clearly armed and supported by the Kremlin; has a naval base in Tartus; with Iran, offer to Russia a strong influence in an area otherwise of strong American support.

It must be noted that Russia, as well as the US and the West, only use the humanitarian issue as a façade and in reality it is national interest and international power balance that seeks. The duo Putin/Lavrov know very well that losing Syria will exclude them from the East Mediterranean, will enhance US superiority and weaken other friendly states such Iran. But on the top of Putin’s agenda there was, and still remains, a point: restore the bilateral and direct control with the US, a return to the superpower balance of the past.

Putin/Lavrov’s actions followed some key events:

  1. Supported the UN and the necessity to block a rushed military intervention; they denounce openly US, UK and France for their action in violation of international law and in seeking to side-line once again the UN;
  2. Challenged US claims of Damascus responsibility in the chemical attack, asking for proof which to today are still waited; to ignore rebels responsibilities in similar attacks; to turn blind eyes on Al-Nusra actions in Kurdistan, where the Al-Qaida linked group has been accused of ethnic cleansing;
  3. UK and France have ben totally ignored and relegated by Putin/Lavrov, as they seek direct dialogue with the US only;
  4. A strong claim, maybe a bluff or not, to support militarily Syria in the event of a US attack;
  5. Obama’s strategy, that is more complex than thought, may have helped the Russians with their plan.

The above created the space for Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov as a skilled duo, a ruthless and hardliner the first with a diplomatic and mild character the second, in searching to regain the balance. They skilfully played the event of the G20 in Saint Petersburg to highlight the divisions within the organisation and at the same time to seek direct dialogue with the US by side-lining completely UK and France.

These two European powers, however, are not the only ones left at the window as the Chinese role is also seen differently. If China has been seen as Russian orientated in the UNSC, this was more for internal logic and non-internal interference policy rather than an ally posture. China, as Russia, judges as dangerous the American influence and especially in the Pacific knows that the challenge will soon arise. For China keeping the US at bay is of fundamental importance and, whilst undermining their efforts in other areas of the world, at the same time they are not interested in challenging them in a stronger way. Whether this is a political calculation or a sign that China is not yet a superpower, a fact remain: Putin, when looking to re-establish a sort of Yalta configuration, also look not only to weaken UK and France but also the Chinese, as to maintain a preferential relation with the US seen as the main contender.

At this point we must ask, what about the US? Is Obama really defeated, some even said humiliated? Has the US policy been defeated by the duo Putin/Lavrov? In reality as said there is more than that.

Obama/Kerry Played a Dangerous but Ingenious Strategy

The duo Obama/Kerry, while on one side genuinely condemned the chemical attack actively promoting a strong response, were at the same time well aware of the dangers of a military intervention. Without UN backing, with public opinion still opposed to any other military adventure, NATO allies unsure or still loyal to a UN intervention and especially by the strong Russian reaction they were forced to change their strategy. The Americans, acting as any other Democratic administration, took their time, tried at first to seek a strong alliance that suddenly crumbled in front of the reality of a war with many obscure scenarios rather than secure victory. They had to resist the hawks in the US military establishment pushing for war and the usual arrogance of UK/France acting as they were still leaving in colonial time. In this we may spot not a weakness, but a sapient strategy that the duo Obama/Kerry has played: on one side the put clearly the military strike on the table, on the other rush the Russian to take a position. In other words, by resisting internal pressure for military intervention, they sought to make Russian position untenable in the long term, and pushing them to come out with a solution or show their absence of strategy. This was a risky game as leaving the hot issue in Russian hands could have well ended with their inability to offer a way out, then leaving at the same time the US without any other cards to play other than a military intervention. So, a question arises, were Putin and Lavrov the only masterminds behind this system restore or there was also a convergent US action?


The vote at the UNSC, with all members is favour of the plan, hailed as a triumph of diplomacy signalled most likely the starting point were the two powers will cooperate, openly or secretly, to restore a mutual control to guarantee stability in some areas of the world. Nevertheless, we need to remember that if this is a system restore to a Cold War configuration, the interests on the table still remain the same: political and national pride, security and influence. The problem with this vision is that countries and people will be once again seen by Washington and the Kremlin as checkers in a chessboard, and where often the outcome of their actions will not result in welfare for the population. At the same time it is undeniable that this could avoid major military confrontations, keep down tones and avoid “adventures”, and although small skirmishes and contained conflicts will still happen, this will be part of a strategy to weaken and challenge the adversary. If the above policy is under way, then the spectacular and, for many, unexpected Iranian availability to discuss with the US its nuclear programme could be the result of a strategy expected in Washington and Moscow.

Written by Matteo Figus

01/10/2013 at 10:43


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