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Joe Dixon
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At last! Some kind of clarity on why we're in Afghanistan, and also, some kind of idea of when we're likely to be out. "End state, not end date." Don't know who said that, will have to find out tomorrow, but it appears that that is what the new Defense Secretary, Liam Fox is suggesting today. In this post, Helmand Blog author Major Paul Smyth, picks out the key points from an interview given by Dr Fox (ha! But he actually is a doctor). Perhaps the most important is the assertion that: "Success means a stable enough Afghanistan, able to... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2010 at War and Society
Yesterday, I came across this article on War is Boring. I made a Post-It note and stuck it to my laptop so that I would remember what I had planned to do this morning. It worked, and I have read the article in full. Seems like a strange paradox. The armies of the world are working to operate in smaller, less intense situations. The 'Surges' in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example. Both operations have, by and large, seen armies scaling down, operating more with infantry and patrols and reducing the sizes of the operational platforms. The opposite appears to be... Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2010 at War and Society
From what little I know about the "human terrain" element of counterinsurgency, I was struck by this piece at Danger Room. It's talking about using sociologists and ethnographers (yes... I looked it up) to help military planners "better understand Africa and its peoples, and perhaps provide some 'early warning' to prevent conflicts before they start." While trying not to be over-critical, I can't help but think this is horribly patronising, and that it runs the risk of oversimplifying a very complex set of dynamics. It smacks of old-skool colonialism. The idea of helping planners "better understand Africa" sounds to me... Continue reading
Posted May 15, 2010 at War and Society
This article from Helmand Blog talks about something which had not really crossed my mind until this morning. (Although, looking back through my notes, it was something that I wrote down.) Apparently NATO is being blamed for the spread of a fungus which is "thought to have infected about half of the country's poppy crop." This to me is indicative of NATO's continued refusal to look beyond the strategy of eradication, and consider other, more COIN-friendly methods of mitigating Afghanistan's truly awesome capacity to grow poppies. Any moves away from eradication though, according to World Policy Review, are seen by... Continue reading
Posted May 14, 2010 at War and Society
There are myriad problems, hypocracies and inconsistencies with the American approach to the "War on Drugs". This is one of them. This video is disturbing, but you should see it. If only to see how the American law enforcement agency goes about policing its people. While the police chief's assertion that “[i]t was not a mistake to shoot the pit bull,” might be true, to some degree, it's one of those childish "He started it" arguments. It was most certainly a mistake (understatement of the century) by the police to allow armed, armoured police officers to enter, by force,... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at War and Society
After a century of failed policies, since the drug problems of individual countries were collectivized by the 1909 Shanghai International Opium Commission, it seems that global drug policy might be on the brink of changing. In an article for Transnational Institute last month, Tom Kramer, critiqued a recent review of drug research, arguing that "'Drug War' Policies Need a Stint in Rehab." He showed that "[a]n examination of all English-language scientific literature dating back more than 20 years reveals that drug law enforcement dramatically escalates drug-market violence. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a startling 82 percent of the studies found the... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2010 at War and Society
In light of yesterday’s post, some changes were made, and apologies offered. I spoke to a friend of mine, far more experienced in matters Internet than I, after amending the post. I like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about the Internet. I’m a disciple of Clay Shirky. I like his ideas about the power of wasted time in the development of Wikipedia, and the arguments that he puts forth about the way that people organise themselves on the Internet. However, I am very much an amateur in its use. The conversation that I had, and the experience this morning had... Continue reading
Posted May 6, 2010 at War and Society
EDIT: This piece has been heavily edited in light of a comment received from Capt. Dyer himself this morning, pointing out a few things that I had missed. Says something about a lack of context, perhaps. I apologize for taking the video out of context. The field in the background of the video looked red. Once again "assume makes an ass of u and me." So perhaps the only gripe I could have would be the use of the name "Route Dorest" to designate the road. This might just be the British army's designation, but I feel like, from what... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2010 at War and Society
“Operation Moshtarak not only failed to win the hearts and minds of the people of Marjah, but it has actually driven them further away from the international community.” That is the conclusion of this report from the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in its analysis of the NATO and ANA assault on the town of Marjah in Helmand Province. ICOS’s own research demonstrates that the operation has had an overall negative effect on the situation in that area. Their research showed that 68% of Afghans interviewed believed that the Taliban would return to the region, when NATO/ANA forces... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2010 at War and Society
Or perhaps a move to becoming more focused. I think that this blog will continue to focus on the future of conflict, but it is also likely to become far more concerned about the role of narcotics in conflict; particularly in the conflict in Afghanistan. This might be because I am about to embark on eighteen months of researching and writing about those topics, but it's also because this is what I think that I have been called to do. And from a second reading of Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I feel like it is more important than... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2010 at War and Society
I remember first hearing about Joseph Nye's notion of 'soft power' from this video, given by Shashi Tharoor. I was intrigued at how Tharoor suggested that through sporting events, he uses the Beijing Olympics as an example, we might foster improvements in international relations. He suggests that while India is economically strong, militarily powerful, in possession of nuclear weapons and extremely populous, this is not a fair measure of power in the modern age. He suggests that their telecommunications network is a clear marker of them. He gives examples of fishermen informing the seaside towns what fish they have; coconuts... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2010 at War and Society
Having just completed a dissertation on the perceived advantages of robotics in modern conflict (and coming to the conclusion that they are only useful in highly defined situations), this is interesting. The complexity of any situation in a counterinsurgency operation cannot be met by anything as linear as this. This quote is telling: "In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC’s Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2010 at War and Society
I wrote this several weeks ago, while I was waiting to fly out to Ohio to visit Katy. Sitting in places with nothing better to do and a notebook and paper apparently makes me write about them. I just remember being reinvigorated seeing the Multi-faith prayer room sign. It made me think about all the people who pass through "globalization's legacy". Some many different creeds, cultures, beliefs. All made to be the same, if only for a brief moment. And so, to paraphrase Stephen Wright: "I wish when I'd started this, I could have written 'Quote', so when it's finished,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2010 at War and Society
I just watched Waltz With Bashir on the recommendation of the chaps at the Kings of War blog. Very impressive. Very depressing. It’s been a week for that, I think. I watched The Hurt Locker on Saturday. After that it was difficult to drum enthusiasm to go to my ‘day job’ at a bar in town. Waltz with Bashir is a great film. It deals carefully with its subject matter. It was illuminating to me. I know very little about genocide. I don’t really know why it is that I don’t know much about it. I’ve spent three years (nearly)... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2010 at War and Society
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Mar 15, 2010
I began my counterinsurgency (COIN) journey only very recently. But I have made headway. I’m reading Thompson at the moment (probably half way through), John Nagl’s Eating Soup With A Knife arrived in the post yesterday. I am also reading Pete Mansoor’s Baghdad at Sunrise. These books, and discussions with ArmitageShanks, have helped increase my understanding of the ways in which soldier-scholars perceive COIN. It seems that the recent Operation Moshtarak is counterintuitive counterinsur-gency. To quote, at length, from Robert Thompson: “rebuilding of [a] country so that it can once again become economically and politically stable and viable … cannot... Continue reading
Posted Feb 18, 2010 at War and Society
I'm in the final year of my degree now and struggling to get my dissertation to make sense. But I’m struck frequently by the notion that I’m going about it wrong. I’m looking for “The Answer”. This is optimistic to the point of insanity. I have been taught, throughout my training in sociology, that there is no “right” answer; that it is not possible to “know” something completely. However, my genetic predisposition to empiricism (i.e. I’m English—read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) makes me seek certainty, to “know” everything. I am coming to realise, through various media, however, that this can never... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2010 at War and Society
The ‘problem’ with Iran continues today with this announcement from Barack Obama regarding sanctions to be placed on Iran. Iran has always insisted, with the blessing of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that its nuclear enrichment programme is wholly civilian in nature. In this TED talk from this time last year, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita gives a compelling argument for Iran’s future based on computer modelling. He suggests that, if left alone, Iran may well seek to increase its holdings of enriched uranium, but that it will not develop nuclear weapons. The analysis of Iran begins around 13 minutes.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2010 at War and Society
Two news stories piqued my interest today. This one on the latest ISAF offensive in Afghanistan. And this on Iran's nuclear programme.To address the Afghan story first, two things strike me. Firstly, it seems that Operation Moshtarak, a huge offensive to forcibly remove the Taliban from Helmand province, is counter to what NATO is working towards in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan will come from breaking the cycles of corruption and handing security of the country over to a competent indigenous Afghan police force and army.Now, according to The Telegraph, moshtarak is the Dari word for 'together'. This makes sense because... Continue reading
Posted Feb 8, 2010 at War and Society
Last Monday, 25th January, 2010 (when did it become the future?) I began the final semester of an undergraduate War and Society degree at Swansea University. The modules I am taking this semester are The International Politics of Space, with Professor Michael Sheehan, and America and the Bomb, with Professor Bryn Willcock. These modules represent something of a departure for me for me in terms of content--I have only studied one science-based course since starting at Swansea--but I am enjoying them both. I am also writing my dissertation this semester. I wrote about its subject matter, briefly, here. Professor Willcock's... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2010 at War and Society
I got back to Swansea on the 30th December. I had to work on an essay. Before Christmas, as I noted in a previous post, I received my Vibram Five Finger Shoes. I've had a few chance to get out in them and I love them more and more. Walking in them is fine (in fact it's crazy comfortable) running in them feels as natural as ever. I've never had a pair of running shoes that didn't give me painful hard lumps on the outside of my big toes. No such ailments with the Vibram FFS. The only thing that... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2010 at Tour De France 100
I often talk with a friend about how much we know. And in the same discussions, we talk about how little we know. It is a strange phenomenon. To be learning so much, all the time, and still feel very uninformed. There are very few topics on which I feel like I know enough to hold a decent conversation. That’s not to put myself down I’m capable enough, but I feel now, the more I find that I don’t know, the less confident I am in some ways. The adage goes “Ignorance is bliss.” Although it’s only partly true, it’s... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2009 at War and Society
Back home now. Already been on two rides. And last night I went for a run in my new Vibram Five Finger Shoes. I'll post more about them when I've had them for a while, so far, big fan! I was struck by something today, while I was out. It happens regularly. I was trying to beat a time that I had set before going to university (1:13:34) and I was cutting it a bit close. It was windy and that got me thinking. I often watch sporting events on the TV (who'd've thought it!?) and I am always conscious... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2009 at Tour De France 100
So, it's been a while since I last posted anything here. I haven't been doing a great deal of training though, so this might explain it. I have however taken part in the Chilly Duathlon. I had a great day with the triathlon team and really enjoyed the race. There was a great atmosphere there. I managed to take something like 5 minutes off my time from last year. Other than that, work has taken over slightly, although last night I finally realised something. I hadn't done any training since the duathlon, and I had also been struggling to work.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2009 at Tour De France 100
My key focus currently is on the use of robots in war. It's something that is going to become more and more common in future. I think that we are not as prepared as we might be for this phenomenon. This is the subject of my dissertation. I am going to look at how the use of robots in battle might change the role of soldiers. It is vital that soldiers are on the ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Robots run the risk of alienating local people. It is these people that NATO forces should be trying to... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2009 at War and Society