Archive for the ‘NATO’ Category

Pirate Links

A couple of piracy links. Thomas Wiegold (German link) reports that India is very angry indeed about a group of Italian security men protecting a ship who fired on a fishing boat, thinking she was a pirate skiff, killing several people. Of course, the Indian Navy has form here, having destroyed a Thai trawler in error with the loss of dozens of lives not so long ago.

Wiegold’s blog is usually worth watching (for example, this story), and I’d also recommend this piece, especially as a conference on piracy is coming up in London. It’s been suggested that the EU naval force off Somalia would be allowed to carry out raids against pirates on shore, probably with ship’s light helicopters – here Wiegold quizzes the German foreign ministry spokesman and discovers that the wording in question means “between the high and low water mark”, which is suspiciously specific.


Shock! NATO is secretly reviewing its plans to defend the Baltic states and Poland in the event of a war with Russia, a Wikileaked cable reveals. Interestingly enough, the details of this are already public – Gazeta Wyborcza published them on the 5th of November, appropriately enough, detailing that the NATO Response Force would be first in followed by up to 9 divisions from NATO states with the biggest contributions from the US, the UK, and Germany, using Gdynia and Swinoujscie as the main reinforcement ports and, of course, the NATO navies to clear the troops’ way across the seas. On the 11th of November (again, pretty damn appropriate) Jean-Dominique Merchet’s Secret Défense covered the story at its new home. All the leak really adds is that the planning exercise was in large part motivated by the need to get the new NATO members on side with the “reset” of US-Russia relations.

pigeon religion

Sometimes, at the moment, politics feels like an entirely unconscious business; just a matter of the right reflexes. Like B.F. Skinner’s religious pigeons (see also here). Tap the right kneejerk and get a pellet. Hence this exchange in a US military press conference:

Q Yes. Do you have any evidence that there are more or fewer Iranian-made weapons going into Iraq?…

MR. MORRELL: I don’t have a strong indication of whether there are more or less, but I think we see persistent evidence that there continues to be Iranian support of special groups who are trying to undermine peace and security in Afghanistan. Whether it be through training or the supply of weapons such as EFPs. Frankly —

Q Afghanistan?

MR. MORRELL: You’re asking Iraq.

Q I was asking about Iraq.


Iraq? Afghanistan? Somewhere you can go with BGIA, anyway. And, of course, by definition all opposition comes from Iran, special groups, flah diddysqort, Ping! It’s always been one of the attractions of state-sponsorship theories that you don’t have to think, ascribe motives, accept agency; the seemly emotion (either hysteria, or else Serious Concern, depending on status) is achievable without using the brain at all.

Of course, one effect of this is that in the end everywhere does start to look like Iraq. Afghan private military companies are becoming a problem, but then, who are we to complain when 2 US combatant commands, NATO, several allied but non-NATO states operating in ISAF, a unilateral US command, a couple of civilian organisations, Afghan police, border guards, and army are supposedly the forces of order?

This BBC Radio 4 documentary about the British nuclear deterrent and the people who operate it is absolutely cracking. Not surprisingly, the man behind it is none other than Professor Peter Hennessy (can we call him Henn-dawg yet?).

One of the things that stands out is the amount of desperate psychological coping going on. The forms vary; the RAF V-Force crews of the 1960s, who were not only expected to carry in the warheads themselves but also very likely to ditch the aircraft somewhere beyond, also had to taxy the Vulcans out for every mission past the school playground. Their wives were more than familiar with the desperate QRA launch scenarios; it seems remarkable that anyone could put up with that.

One day at RAF Cottesmore, the public-address speakers, which were wired directly to the Bomber Controller telebrief feed from High Wycombe, went click just as a group of families visited, and everyone ran like hell to the flight line without even waiting for the voice from headquarters, still less saying a word. We’re talking about 1950s telecoms and electronics here – it must have gone click ten times a day.

A different style from this barely contained hysteria was reserved, indeed still is, for the top civil service and since 1969, the Royal Navy submariners; here, they deal with a much slower and more considered form of killing and dying. It’s a neurotic rather than a hysterical scenario: what can I tell them? what will they think? am I doing the right thing?

Was, for example, Denis Healey doing the right thing, in the High Wycombe bunker during 1960s transition to war exercises as one of the Prime Minister’s deputies for retaliation, when he repeatedly pretended to give the authorisation to scramble the V-force – although in fact, he had decided that should it come to that he wasn’t going to launch? (Keighley Man Saves The World.)

Interestingly, James Callaghan, despite the conventional wisdom, was very clear that he would certainly have pressed the button – or rather, his half of the button. One thing that seems to be clearer in the memory of the top officers Hennessy interviews than has been in the past is the duality of civilian and military control – as no civilian can give a military order, the PM or the deputy can only authorise, not order, the launch. (You thought our constitution was weird? Wait ’til you see our nuclear command authority.)

There is a logical AND gate – rather as NATO shared weapons are subject to the dual-key arrangement between NATO and the host-nation, and Soviet ones were to split control between the military (for the aircraft or missile) and the Communist Party/secret police (for the warhead fusing), UK nukes are subject to a dual-key arrangement between the civilian and military authorities. Another of Hennessy’s interviewees, Lord Guthrie, the Chief of Defence Staff who read Tony Blair in on the nuclear files, made clear that he thought this was very much a real constraint on both parties.

An odd feature of the whole thing was the repeated suggestion that, had the UK been devastated by Soviet missiles and the deterrent not been used, the remaining subs or aircraft might have been turned over to Australia. This would have been a challenging redeployment for the V-Force, to say the least, although they did exercise Far Eastern deployments. Of course, the submarines would have had no such difficulty. In this weird way, the last remnants of imperial feeling were to be saved from the ashes, and the deterrent’s true role – to maintain credible independence from the United States – would be maintained under a slightly different flag.

Ah, the Americans. They have a sort of shadow presence in the whole thing. One thing that the broadcast makes clear is that yes, there is a UK national firing chain as well as the NATO SACLANT one. They visit the cell in the Navy’s bunker at Northwood which handles the link between the Government and the extremely-low frequency transmitters – two crypto officers independently authenticate the message from the Cabinet Office and retransmit it via multiple redundant routes. They each need codebooks from two safes, neither of which can be opened at once, and which are permanently monitored by armed Marine Commandos. We hear a simulated authentication; interestingly, the crosstalk suggests that there is a specific distinction between a NATO and a UK national signal.

But each submarine, as she collects her load-out of rockets from King’s Bay, Georgia, also picks up an American shakedown crew for the test launch down the Eastern rocket range from a spot off Cape Canaveral, and the actual handle the submarine Weapons Engineering Officer pulls is the butt end of a Colt .45.

In all, however, it was a story of people in an insane situation working hard at staying sane.

After the show, I looked up some news and saw this. Jamie Kenny deals with it here, but the facts are worth repeating. Some random just rang up Mr 10% and claimed to be the Indian foreign ministry, and threatened war. Pakistan responded by increasing air force readiness; fighters were placed on combat air patrols. We don’t know what happened with the Pakistani nuclear weapons, which are delivered by aircraft; did the F-16s load up and move to the runway’s end?

Pakistan apparently believes it really was the Indians; the Indians claim it was some maniac with a telephone. The Pakistanis also say it came from a phone number at the Indian foreign ministry. This is fairly meaningless – not many bulk SIP carriers, and not that many old fashioned telcos, check or filter the Caller Line Identification strings, and software like the Asterisk free IP-PBX will let you send whatever CLI you like. After all, the head of the Islamic Students’ Movement of India is supposedly a geek.

The answer to this is of course the one the MI6 station chief in Moscow in 1962 used when the secret signal he gave Oleg Penkovsky for use in the event he learned of a nuclear attack came down the phone: do nothing. The crisis was on its way down; Penkovsky had been missing for days, and was presumably in the hands of the MVD. Therefore Frank Roberts decided to ignore the signal. Few feedback loops of such criticality can’t do with some more damping.

I don’t believe this; note the lack of any direct evidence, not even packets of Indian steel balls. What I do believe is that we’re heading for a serious catastrophe with regard to Pakistan. As I’ve said before, the American meta-narrative seems to be that it’s something like a 50s-70s rightwing military dictatorship in Southeast Asia or Latin America; everyone is secretly communist but we’ve got to support El General or, god knows…

But this is drivel; the facts are that nobody votes for the Islamists. Even in the NWFP, they didn’t break 15 per cent. All the things we claim to support are embodied in the politics we’re making enemies of – the lawyers’ movement, the middle-class activists behind the PML-N, the working class support of the PPP. Les forces vives de la nation, you could say. Both the working class, and the new mobile phone network bourgeoisie (it’s more than symbolic that the missing at the Marriott include the CFO of Mobilink).

But we’ve been encouraging Mr 10% to dishonour his agreement with the PML, thus dropping the movement for democracy in it. As soon as Mr 10% got his new status as Musharraf 2.0, supported by his own party and the near-mafia in the MQM (thanks, Mark Lyell-Grant), the Americans began doing airmobile raids over the border and the Pakistani army began shooting back.

Here is sense:

Second, contra the apocalyptic prose of the LA Times, the main concern of the Pakistani elite is not that tribal extremists from a thinly populated hinterland will take over Pakistan, an urbanized, populous, and industrialized country of 120 million people. The main concern is that the democratic institutions haltingly restored in the post-Musharraf era will be swept aside by violent unrest and a return to military rule if Pakistan is forced to bow to the United States’ demand for an all or nothing military solution in Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

But it goes beyond that; there is absolutely no possible goal in the NWFP or Afghanistan that is worth risking making things worse in Pakistan. We could, after all, quit Afghanistan. (We did it before.) But in Pakistan, there is the huge modern army, the nuclear bombs, the coast on the oil tanker routes, the special relationship with Saudi Arabia, the Indian and Chinese dimensions. Even Osama bin Laden in person is not worth this stuff. Strategy beats tactics.

And just to speak of tactics, Britain is in the first line to lose here. The Army’s main supply route to Helmand is vulnerable to the Pakistani Taliban, the Baluchistan Liberation Front, and the Pakistani army. And there’s a good reason why you can get regular flights from Manchester to Islamabad. We don’t need this shit.

There was a time when a Labour prime minister was involved in a war, in which the Americans were too. They wanted to do something crazy, irresponsible, and vicious; they wanted to go nuclear in Korea. Clement Attlee went straight to Washington to say no; some disagree as to what impact this had, but at least he was trying. Brown should head right for Washington and say no. No intelligence cooperation, no help with the financial crisis, everyone out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible. I’d vote for him.

(Note that there certainly was something going on in there: a sailor who was a crypto technician?)

Ooh, more Iran-war nonsense, this time from none other than mouthpieceful Russia Today, via this thread. There seems to be a meme floating around that there was a war between Russia and Georgia because the Russians intervened to prevent the Americans using Georgian airbases to attack Iran (obviously, a war with Iran is the universal explicator for everything). Quote:

Shortly after that, a phone call came from a college friend who had just come back from Kandahar in Afghanistan, where he had seen American battle tanks being unloaded from a Ukrainian-registered Antonov-124 “Ruslan”, the heaviest and largest cargo airplane in the world. The friend asked if I had any idea what tanks would be good for in Afghanistan, and I said I didn’t. It’s an established fact from the Soviet war in Afghanistan that tanks are no good for most of the country’s mountainous territory. They are good for flatlands, and the main body of flat land in the region is right across the border in Iran.

Later in August there was another bit of unofficial information from a Russian military source: more than a thousand American tanks and armored vehicles had been shipped to Eastern Afghanistan by Ukrainian “Ruslans” flying in three to five shipments a day, and more flights were expected.

Wrong! For a start, the Canadian and Danish armies brought their Leopard 2 tanks to Afghanistan. But far more importantly; there are 26 active An-124s in the world (not counting ones operated by the Russian air force). You could load, at the very most, two M1A1 Abrams tanks in one plane. To move a thousand tanks – if the US Army has that many spare, which sounds unlikely – you’d therefore need 500 flights, or 19 sorties for the complete available fleet.

You couldn’t get the complete fleet anyway, as it has regular contractual commitments; if you could round up 12 An-124s for the job…well, with 122 tonnes of cargo, the plane has a still air range of 2,335 miles. This means it will need to make multiple stops between Kabul and anywhere in the US; at a cruising speed of 490mph, each hop would be about 4h 45mins long, so at least a 13 hour haul, which implies you’re only going to get one trip every two days. So that would be about 83 days’ work. At a cost of about $20,000 an hour that’s $478 million in air chartering alone.

So this is evidently drivel. But why would Russia Today be pushing it? Perhaps this story in Le Monde might tell us something. Despite all the buffoonery, the Russian government has decided not to break off an agreement permitting NATO to send supplies through Russia to Afghanistan, and will further be providing 4 Mi-8 helicopters for EUFOR in Chad. Now that it’s all out of the papers, both parties are paying the price for their harder statements by trimming back their actions. Although, you have to wonder what Sarko offered or threatened to get them out of Poti.

Pakistan Policy Blog speaks sense:

Zardari’s attempt to present himself as a savior belies the reality and the way most in Pakistan and even the United States see him. Billionaire Zardari is part of Pakistan’s feuding oligarchy, not a revolutionary against it.

The sad fact is that most Pakistanis have been hostage to this sadistic version of Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day for 60 years. There will be no messiahs in Pakistan. Pakistanis need the rule of law — neither Baitullah Mehsud’s law, nor Farooq Naik’s law — and a system with real checks, balances, and accountability to free them from their malaise.

Read the whole thing; I mean the whole blog, if you’ve got time. I suppose it couldn’t last; the position since the formation of the PPP-PML(N) government was just too good. The government had genuine public support, civil society had given The Tyrant a beating, both the Punjabis and Sindhis were represented, and no bugger voted for the Taliban tribute bands.

Now it’s back to normal service; a weak, unpopular, corrupt civilian president without support from half the country. I confidently predict there’ll be a coup in three or so years. What is genuinely depressing is the role of Zalmay Khalilzad – whether officially or pseudo-unofficially – in egging Mr 10 Per Cent on. The Americans seem to think that Pakistan is a 1970s rightwing military dictatorship, by nature. Says Mr. Douglas State:

Sweating with indignation, as of course they have every right to be, the great majority of the public would go communist tomorrow – and then, what? So, you see, we have to support General Caudillo. I agree he’s unattractive, but, you can’t do everything…

But they won’t – even the NWFP recorded about 15% of votes for the various Taliban tribute bands. They don’t trust the Americans. So what? I don’t. After all, they got new F-16s from the US, to replace the ones they didn’t get the parts for the time before that; they got a couple of spanking new GSM networks from dealing with Norwegian and UAE interests, respectively.

They need exactly the opposite of this kind of government, and this kind of ethic. It’s especially painful that, despite all the “freedom agenda” bollocks, the people who defied the tyrant precisely to defend the rule of law are being sold out. We’re on the wrong side of history, again.

This, meanwhile, is purely irresponsible, unless the game is to bring about a new military government. The upshot is that the Pakistanis turn off the MSR via Karachi; now, their interests and the other side are aligned.

I promised more serious content; here goes.

Right, everyone is vexed about the RUSI report (PDF download) that was recently published under the names of Gwyn Prins (a minor hero of this blog’s, for his The Heart of War: Power, Conflict, and Obligation in the 21st Century) and the Marquess of Salisbury (no less, who hasn’t written anything I’m aware of).

The media discourse about it has been almost entirely devoted to this paragraph:

The United Kingdom presents itself as a target, as a fragmenting, post-Christian society, increasingly divided about interpretations of its history, about its national aims, its values and in its political identity. That fragmentation is worsened by the firm self-image of those
elements within it who refuse to integrate. This is a problem worsened by the lack of leadership from the majority which in mis-placed deference to ‘multi-culturalism’ failed to lay down the line to immigrant communities, thus under-cutting those within them trying to fight extremism. The country’s lack of self- confidence is in stark contrast to the implacability of its Islamist terrorist enemy, within and without.

This appears to be standard boilerplate Toryism/Decent Left stuff; I rather doubt that Islamists particularly care about anyone’s view of the Whig interpretation of history. Depending on partisan allegiance, this has either been read as being a sinister right-wing menace from “ranting old colonels” as the Grauniad‘s Joseph Harker put it (you haven’t read Rupert Smith’s book, have you?) or else as a roaring affirmation of everything good and true, as the Daily Mail put it, with the slight curiosity that most of the stuff they attribute to it doesn’t actually appear anywhere in the document. There is for example no reference to being a “soft touch” in the text, only one use of the word “immigrant”, and no suggestion of further restrictions on immigration. I have the strong impression that most of the journos responding to it have not read the document.

On substance, this point is of course silly; the common factor about British Islamist terrorists, as far as I can make out, is that they are members of my generation and therefore products of Ken Baker’s tenure as Education Secretary. “Our Island Story”, not multiculturalism, if the word still has any meaning other than the Orwellian one of “something not desirable”; Thatcher, not Wilson or Blair. I assume that this was Old Sarum’s contribution, as is the factless pabulum about “long established constitutional arrangements of the Queen in Parliament” and coded Euroscepticism. It’s quite clear, however, where Prins cuts in; there is a typically Prins emphasis on the intersection between traditional, big war strategy and human security issues, for example the politics of climate change, the weakening of both the Anglo-American and NATO alliances, relations with Russia, and world naval construction.

Further, the actual policy proposals the paper contains are almost comically modest compared to its tone and its reception; they want to set up two new committees, one a mixed committee of ministers and officials based in the Cabinet Office and serviced by the CabSec, and the other a committee of both houses of parliament. The first would be a sort of national security council, and the second an independent oversight committee of it. This is not terribly controversial, or dare I say it, terribly new.

Meanwhile, Mick DSM Smith reports on some more capability gaps; as Teh Defence Crisis rolls on, the carrier project is sliding right again, and all the four remaining T-22 frigates are to be mothballed, plus one T-23. According to our sources, the T-42 destroyers are “falling apart” and morale aboard ship is at rock bottom; I really have no idea why the T-42s are protected from cuts, as they are the only class of warship we have that was tested in combat and found wanting.

Regarding the carriers, we’re now getting to a point where the capability-gapping that was meant to make up the costs is committing us to going ahead; with fewer T-45 ships, no T-22 Block 3 ships, and fewer T-23 ships, and no air defence on the existing carriers, losing the new carriers will render most of the new amphibious ships useless. If the Government really wants to deliver them, it needs to start steelworking at Babcocks in Rosyth. Recap; the ships are to be built in four “superblocks” at Rosyth, BAE’s yards on the Clyde, and Vospers in Portsmouth, and then assembled in the drydock in Rosyth, the only one big enough. Once the Rosyth block is in the drydock, nothing else is going to use the drydock until it is either scrapped in place or the completed ship is floated-out. Some preparatory work was announced last week at a cost of £34m, but they have still not taken the vital step of actually checking the welding torch out of the locker and cracking on.

Because, on top of one of ’em, there’s a great big phased-array radar, pointing right down to Saudi Arabia. Check out this paper by Pavel Podvig of RussianForces, and scroll right to the bottom for the radar coverage map. Alternatively, there’s this page, which is rather out of date. But the key point is that the Russians have a large phased-array radar down in Gabala, Azerbaijan, with enough range to cover the vast majority of Iranian territory, Iraq, the Gulf, and northern Saudi Arabia. The only bit of Iran it can’t see is the hardscrabble desert down on the Pakistani border, a long way from anywhere. On the other hand, everywhere in that part of the world near anywhere is covered.

Fascinating, no?

Meanwhile, is anyone concerned about some details regarding the Trident decision? Consider the White Paper, and specifically the possible cases it gives. Three options are given – one is the obvious one of buying the next US SLBM system, another is the silly one of a homegrown ICBM system, and another suggests the procurement of a force of large airliners and the development of a new very long-range cruise missile.

Neatly, the stated alternatives are all knockout arguments for the favoured option. Option 2, a helpful graphic explains, would require missiles to be placed in every corner of the nation (subtext: will affect house prices in your constituency) in order to match the dispersal provided by a submarine patrol area. It would of course also require inventing a brand-new huge rocket. Option 3 is blatantly silly, indeed dishonest.

The RAF is in the process of buying some new aeroplanes – specifically, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s later variants are intended to be the best strike fighters in the world. They are capable of carrying the Anglo-French Stormshadow cruise missile, with a range of 200 miles. If it was given a nuclear warhead, and all the options assume that AWRE Aldermaston would develop one, that would be enough to attack Moscow with a degree of certainty. But inventing a whole new cruise missile, one with enough range to be launched from a large civilian aircraft, which is what Option 3 assumes – well, that’s going to be absurdly expensive. After all, an airliner-as-bomber would have to launch well away from any possible air defence, unlike a Typhoon or for that matter an F-35.

Note the classic bureaucratic technique. Pre-filtering means that the choice presented to mere democrats is kept down to a choice between the impossible and the expedient. And what is the problem with the cheapest and most independent option? Silence…

Well, Mick Smith quotes the Parachute Regiment’s journal as saying that Brigadier Butler was forced into going along with Operation MOUNTAIN THRUST, the offensive the US command in Afghanistan initiated the month before General Richards arrived in Afghanistan. Read the whole thing. This is much as I thought at the time – essentially, neither the Americans or the Afghan government had had an effective presence there since 2001, and the arrival of British troops was an irresistible temptation. The one month’s interregnum between their arrival and the change of command meant that the Americans could essentially borrow the train set and then hand over the mess to the Brits.

Given this bad start, shorthandedness, and the non-start of the reconstruction effort, I reckon Richards can claim to have done reasonably well in having won all the fights, extricated the army from an ill-advised posture, and come to a sensible settlement at Musa Qala that actually did hold and permitted the expansion of our area of control. More recently, the first big success, the restoration of the Kajaki dam, is within reach. Now, though, it looks like the increase in force when 12th Mechanised Brigade relieves 3 Commando Brigade has actually managed to buy us rather less influence with the Americans. Dan McNeill is the new commander, the ARRC staff is going home with Richards, and the Taliban have responded by pushing a force back into Musa Qala, setting a sprat to catch a McNeill.

Antagonising Iran, the only power that is actually getting anything done in Afghanistan, isn’t going to help either. (I was amused to see this post drawing traffic from hosts.)