British European Union Membership at Crossroad

View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011
View of the Houses of Parliament in London, England, December 21, 2011 (Ben Sutherland)

Euroskeptic currents have been strong of late in the Her Majesty’s kingdom, but also the Anglophobe ones in continental Europe. Westminster finds itself divided over the level of European integration best to pursue.

Having opted out from many “European” projects deepening integration, many Tory backbenchers claim that Europe’s woes justify further distance, especially if the European Union’s answer to the crisis is financial centralization.

While English skepticism toward European Union isn’t new, the sniping occurs at a time when the body itself is undergoing the greatest stress it has experienced since its inception. With potential breakaway regions like Catalonia in Spain, not to mention Scotland for the United Kingdom, raising questions of sovereignty even within member states as opposed to among them, the long-term future of European integration is in serious doubt. These debates are no longer merely exercises in rhetorical throat clearing but legitimate challenges to the status quo.

Depending on the future of British membership and the extent to which other states wish to centralize fiscal control, analysts in Wikistrat’s Europe Desk see four scenarios for British engagement with Europe. Read more

Navy to Invite China to Pacific Rim Exercise

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of America's Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits Beijing, China, July 11, 2011
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits Beijing, China, July 11, 2011 (DoD/Chad J. McNeeley)

Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta announced on Thursday that the United States Navy will be inviting China to a series of Pacific naval exercises in 2014.

These exercises, which take place biannually, involve up to 22 nations. The announcement comes in the wake of joint counterpiracy operations conducted by the two nations last week in the Gulf of Aden. Proposals for joint peacekeeping operations were discussed as well.

Referring to the ongoing conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu Islands in China, Panetta pleaded for international cooperation, specifically in areas of maritime disputes. Read more

Saudis Arrest Al Qaeda Cells with Links to Gaza, Sinai

Counterterrorism sources report a connection between the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cell captured in Saudi Arabia and Sunday’s rocket attacks on Sderot, Israel.

AQAP commands a cell dubbed “the Shura Council in the Jerusalem Area” which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

According to Debka, an Israeli security news website, the leadership in Arabia has commanded the cell to step up attacks in the region. The commander of the Shura Council, Hisham Saydani alias Abu al-Walid al-Maqdis, was imprisoned by the Palestinian militant group Hamas until recently, when, for an as of yet undisclosed reason, he was released.

Apparently, Saydani was one of the terrorists centrally responsible for this month’s attack at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Israel that killed sixteen Egyptian soldiers. Egypt demanded that Hamas find Saydani. The rocket attack on Sderot on Sunday was a warning from Al Qaeda that Hamas should not comply.

The same day, Saudi security forces busted two AQAP cells in the kingdom that were planning attacks. The cells were in possession of chemical materials for loading into explosive charges. Debka asserts that it has sources that connect the Sderot attacks to the cells that were arrested.

Analysis

Since the rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as a national threat in 2009, between 5- and 12,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom may be a proving ground for CIA operatives working to infiltrate Salafi terror cells.

Perhaps one of the least understood or underreported efforts against Al Qaeda is the coordinated efforts of the American and Saudi intelligence agencies in the covert war to defeat AQAP. Following the 2009 Christmas Day malfunction of the knicker bomber, the two countries have upped their coordination to knock out terror threats emanating from Yemen.

In April, the CIA moved to gain increased capacity to use unmanned aerial vehicles in Yemen after it saw the fruits of the tool’s usage in the assassination of the American born Al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi and the primary propagandist of the organization’s Inspire magazine, Samir Khan.

The use of drones to kill American terrorists abroad set off a debate over their use in counterterrorism operations, which activists claimed denied the right of habeas corpus, further fueling dissent by Pakistanis intent on preserving their territorial integrity in the face of the sovereign challenges imposed by the use of drones in the country’s tribal areas.

The most visible effort of the CIA came in early May when a double agent foiled a bomb plot, bearing the forensic signature of Al Qaeda’s chief bomb architect, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, who is believed to be hiding in Yemen.

The American-Saudi operation led to the assassination of Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the operations manager of AQAP, wanted for his part in the 2000 USS Cole bombing, in Yemen. The joint operation was meant to be kept secret but was leaked to the Associated Press, which held the story at the request of the Obama Administration for one day.

It is too early to tell whether joint American-Saudi intelligence was involved in the most recent disruption of AQAP activities. What is certain is that in May, Ayman al-Zawahiri called on Saudi Arabian citizens to rise up against the ruling family for a Saudi version of the “Arab Spring.” The combined effects of AQAP’s successes in Yemen, constant calls for the death of Saudi royals and the recent call to jihad in the streets of Mecca and Medina by the leader of Al Qaeda have led to a posture of vigilance by Saudi officials and will likely see crackdowns on demonstrations in the near term should they materialize.

Indeed, with the increasing focus on Jerusalem by Zawahiri, intent on competing with the Muslim Brotherhood for the attention of radical Salafists, the likelihood of joint Saudi-Israeli intelligence operations is increasing.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Saudi Arabia can increase the publicity of their efforts to defeat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Israel’s Mossad can join American and Saudi intelligence activities to disrupt future AQAP activity in the region.

Joint operations to hunt down Al Qaeda bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri could cripple the training facilities that breed operational jihadists.

Risks

The continued jailing of Salafi activists can create blowback in the form of street protests, calling for the release of political prisoners by the House of Saud, providing fuel and cover for Al Qaeda co-optive operations.

The kidnapping and brutal beheading of Westerners in Saudi Arabia and Yemen could increase as AQAP’s hunts for CIA operatives.

Improperly assessing the risk of AQAP involvement in the facilitation of weapons and operatives to Hamas could lead to tragic breaches in Israeli security efforts.

Dependencies

The success of the Saudi operations against AQAP require the bulk of the threat to remain in Yemen and any Arab Spring style protests to be put down rapidly.

Continued CIA activity in the Arab Gulf states will continue to provide a training ground for operatives in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Intertwined intelligence operations naturally allow for breaches in vital homeland security secrets. The possibility of double and triple agents working to expose and defeat the joint operations involving the United States are possible, as was evident in American involvement with Jordanian intelligence services and the death of seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan.

Jason Becknell, Gary H. Johnson, Zachary Fenster and T. Michael Lutas contributed to this analysis.

Uzbekistan Key to the Future Stability of Afghanistan

Despite the two state construct of Afghanistan and Pakistan within which American policymakers usually consider the former in the region, the role of Uzbekistan, with has deep relationships with and leverage over key Afghan assets, will grow in importance, especially if post 2014, conditions devolve into civil war.

By focusing squarely on the future influence of China, India and Iran in a post-2014 Afghanistan, American officials face the threat of being caught off guard by the ongoing contingency plans of Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Believed to have little faith in the Karzai government and its ability to function after the withdrawal of NATO forces by December 2014, Karimov’s administration, through its longstanding ties with northern, anti-Taliban forces, may exacerbate a potential conflict with military and financial support of anti-Islamist forces.

Karimov’s belief that post 2014, Afghanistan will descend into chaos is supported by the recent assassination of an ethnic Uzbek former mujahideen commander and key opposition figure, Ahmad Khan Samangani.

More worrying, Uzbekistan’s support of traditional anti-Taliban forces puts it indirectly in conflict with the main supporter of Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan, Pakistan.

Analysis

The failure of “Karzaiism” to spread beyond personal networks into a force that is sufficiently stable in Afghanistan to deserve even a label is striking. We are confronted with the strange spectacle of a country whose insurgency (the Taliban) has a name but its government does not, just an impulse to resist than insurgency.

Afghanistan’s future, as seen from Tashkent, should be one that does not depend on opposing forces to give it life. Until it develops into something that can at least be labeled, warfare is baked into the language.

Islam Karimov’s vision seems one of continual spoiler, not comfortable with victory but too potent to actually kill by movements rising up from Afghanistan’s south. Uzbekistan will need to move beyond this vision to ensure something more productive than a continually bleeding ulcer on its southern border. Its partners will have to help it do so or solutions to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan will always be subject to Uzbekistan’s imposition of a sort of geopolitical heckler’s veto.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Those seeking to influence Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal have another option.

Karimov can leverage his influence to gain more assistance from the international community.

Risks

Karimov could find himself under international pressure (and at risk of losing assistance) to help create an ideal Afghan regime.

Ignoring the Uzbekistan factor could harm those seeking to influence the new Afghanistan.

Dependencies

Can the Karimov regime articulate a positive vision for Afghanistan and then develop it?

Michael Breen, Ruben Gzirian, T. Michael Lutas and Graham O’Brien contributed to this analysis.

Air Sea Battle War Plans Spark Tensions with China

Sailors on the flight deck of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier on deployment in the Pacific Ocean, August 7
Sailors on the flight deck of the USS George Washington aircraft carrier on deployment in the Pacific Ocean, August 7 (US Navy/Eric D. Moorer)

A small but influential office inside the Pentagon is funding war game studies that are designed to prepare the United States for a war against an aggressive and heavily armed China.

The concept, dubbed “Air Sea Battle,” does not give context or provide a scenario for why or how a potential war with China might come about. Instead, it focuses on detailing an American response to an initial Chinese strike.

A concept study by the Pentagon funded Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment starts with the increased look and shoot capabilities that modern technology affords to the Chinese military and which might enable it to strike American military assets in the Pacific region. The concept’s starting point, set twenty years in the future, is a Chinese military strike that sinks major US surface ships and simultaneously disables American air bases in the region.

The plan envisages the American response to consist of a conventional counterattack against mainland China. The United States would use stealth aircraft and submarine launched attacks to destroy Chinese long range precision missiles and radar. The initial “blinding campaign” would then be followed by a larger air and naval assault.

Critics, including Chinese officials, decry the depiction of China as a hegemonic aggressor. Even within the United States itself, skeptics point out that it is hard to imagine a realistic scenario that might trigger such a drastic Chinese move given the high level of interdependence of the two countries.

Within the Pentagon, the Army and Marine Corps are positioning themselves to oppose the plan as it would almost certainly shift scarce resources to the Air Force and Navy. The concept, however, does align with the administration’s broader effort to shift the American military’s focus toward Asia and language has already been added to the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill that asks the Pentagon to outline first steps toward its implementation.

Analysis

Planning for a possible major war with China began in earnest twenty years ago after the Cold War ended but is only now beginning to take concrete shape.

A major military confrontation with China in twenty years would most likely leave only losers. Nobody can realistically assume they would be better off after such a conflict then they were before. Therefore, the study’s recent popularity within defense circles most likely does not stem from an honest expectation of conflict with China.

The scenario of possible major conflict with China can be used to fend off budget cuts in the military or to shift scarce resources within the Pentagon to the Air Force and Navy in an effort to preserve certain programs that are deemed vital.

At the same time, sponsoring these studies costs little but could put large doubt into Chinese military planners’ minds — keeping China’s future ambition and behavior in check by making it clear that the cost for aggression would be extremely high and that the United States stand ready and able to counter even the most extreme of scenarios successfully. The message is not that the United States are planning to win a war against China but that China could not win a war against the United States in the future either.

Conversely, it could cause China to worry about American reactions or overreactions. This worry could cause an escalation in China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

Even if it does not outwardly strain relations between the two countries, it could cause the Chinese to be more reserved toward the United States and more cautious regarding its Asian centric policies.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

The United States can contain China’s ambitions and keep the region peaceful by convincing Chinese military planners that the price for military adventures outweighs the possible benefits.

Other nations in the Pacific may take heart from the fact that China can be threatened and may draw closer to the United States in attempts to shield themselves from regional bullying, especially in regards to South China Sea disputes.

Risks

American plans are viewed as a threat and start an escalating arms race leading to a self fulling prophesy as everybody starts preparing for a conflict that no one wants or benefits from.

Dependencies

The economic trajectories of China and the United States as well as their ability to increase or maintain their military capabilities — how will relative military strength change between China and the United States in the future?

Serhan Ayhan, Caitlin Barthold, Andrew Cockburn, Alexander Davis, Graham O’Brien, Ruben Gzirian and William Wagstaff contributed to this analysis.

Afghan Bamiyan Province at Risk from Insurgents

Afghanistan’s central province of Bamiyan has long been a safe haven from the violence that plagues the eastern and southern provinces but insurgent violence has picked up in recent months, starting a dangerous and troubling trend.

The Bamiyan Province has been shielded from the majority of past insurgent violence both because of its central geographical location and its population’s strong anti-Taliban mentality.

Insurgent violence has been building these past months. Recently, two roadside bombs in the province, only five days apart, took the lives of dozens of Afghan civilians and police officers. Those who reside in the wartorn state share concerns that insurgents will capitalize on the power void left behind after the withdrawal of foreign military troops.

July’s bombings in Bamiyan are particularly disconcerting because the province has long been considered a very secure location and was the first point of power transition from NATO to Afghan troops. Mounting insurgency violence in what was once deemed an “island of security” paints a less than desirable picture in the context of the NATO withdrawal from the region.

The attacks against Afghan police officers were unprecedented in terms of their boldness and lethality. The provincial governor says its police forces are not prepared to fight insurgents and need more weapons and training. More cooperation between leaders and assistance from the Afghan army have been suggested as ways to counter this problem.

Analysis

The two bombings in the Bamiyan Province indicate the Taliban’s push into less violent regions to convey a message of weakened security and the spillover of violence from more dangerous provinces.

This summer, the Taliban have increased their attacks in central and northern provinces in Afghanistan that have experienced lower frequency of attacks. These attacks are designed to portray the Afghan government as unable to provide security to the people. In weakening the perception of guaranteed security, the Taliban is feeding into Afghan fears that violence will steadily increase after foreign troops withdraw.

The latest attacks in Bamiyan Province also show how violence in neighboring provinces can spill over into more secure areas. The instability in the neighboring provinces of Baghlan, Parwan and Wardak strengthens the ability of the Taliban to strike calmer regions that are anti-Taliban.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Supplying more Afghan troops or police to Bamiyan to secure the province, then push into the less peaceful neighboring provinces.

Risks

The Bamiyan Province continues to experience bombings that destabilize the region.

Dependencies

How the Afghan government reacts to increased attacks in Bamiyan (as well as other central and northern provinces).

Jason Becknell, Phillip Ostroff, Zoya Sameen and Timothy Woodard contributed to this analysis.

Israel Plans Naval Buildup in Mediterranean

Israel is planning to boost its naval presence in the Mediterranean to protect its offshore natural gas industry as new fields are slated to come online.

With the Tamar natural gasfield expected to come online in 2013, the Israeli Defense Ministry is requesting a “one time budget increase” of $760 million to boost its presence and capacity in the Mediterranean to better protect Israeli natural gas platforms.

The ministry’s request also calls for the addition of four new warships and a significant increase in the number of soldiers deployed to the area. The request also calls for Israeli Air Force Shoval drones to patrol the area as well as the installation of new radar equipment on the gas platforms which are located twelve nautical miles from the Israeli coast — beyond Israel’s territorial waters but within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

This latest request to boost naval capabilities in the Mediterranean is significant, in that the navy is not typically a priority when it comes to the allocation of Israel’s military budget. The request reflects the growing concerns among Israel’s military leaders of the need to protect its goals of energy independence and new economic opportunities in the form of natural gas export deals, in light of the proliferation of illicit weapons from Libya to various militant groups in the region as well as the fear that Syria may have already provided new missiles to Hezbollah.

Analysis

As the Israeli military plans to boost its naval capabilities in the Mediterranean to protect the growing natural gas industry, talk of security threats may have the unintended effect of scaring off potential investors.

Israel’s navy has never received a significant amount of attention or funds. However, despite difficulties in doing so, it may become necessary. Supplying support for the gas platforms would strain its current resources which are needed for responsibilities such as securing and supporting the Gaza Strip blockade. The stretching of Israel’s naval resources could limit its effectiveness.

Another worry is an attack by Israel’s enemies, particularly Hezbollah, through long range missiles or civilian dress.

However, Hezbollah does not need to attack (the repercussions would unlikely be worth the risk, though Hezbollah has spoken about maritime attacks in the past) in order to damage Israel’s ability to utilize the huge amount of resources available. Again, the worry about limited security or the possibility of attack could be enough to scare off investors.

The gas platforms currently in place are privately owned (an American company, Noble Energy is working with Israel and Cyprus to tap into the gasfields) and while they are within the country’s exclusive economic zone, they are not within its territorial waters, which could cause problems. Augmenting this is the lack of a demarcated maritime border with Lebanon.

Wikistrat Bottom Lines

Opportunities

Israel’s one time investment could pay off, making operations in the Eastern Mediterranean more secure and building the infrastructure necessary to adapt to future challenges more easily.

Enhanced security could convince foreign companies to engage in new joint ventures with Israeli firms.

Risks

Increased military presence always carries higher risk of tripwire incidence. A successful naval buildup could mean greater likelihood of flashpoint incidents involving future operations of the Iranian navy in the Mediterranean.

The diversion of resources away from other priorities is itself a risk for Israel. Failure to affect this buildup successfully could be seen to have happened if the money is spent ineffectively (i.e., ceding Israel no new capabilities) or if the opportunity cost of resource diversion is seen as too high (i.e., could have more effectively helped elsewhere).

Dependencies

The effectiveness and direction of Israel’s budgetary actions and deployments.

The presence of those other factors that could lead to particular contextual modulations of the naval buildup, such as an Iranian naval incursion or increased domestic problems in the Palestinian territories.

Steven Aiello, Caitlin Barthold, Laura Kandle, Lauren Mellinger, Jesse Parent and Christopher Whyte contributed to this analysis.