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Ed Webb

(Re)introducing Conscription in the Gulf: From Soft Power to Nation-Building - Arab Ref... - 0 views

  • In the Middle East, the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring of 2011, and the subsequent foreign interventions in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, brought military preparedness and competence to the surface again. This led to a return of compulsory military service not only in countries that are at war and/or under the threat of military intervention but also in other countries. This was the case of certain Gulf countries including Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which historically seldom resorted to conscription.
  • Qatar introduced conscription in 2013, followed by the UAE in 2014. Kuwait, on the other hand, reintroduced it in 2014, having practiced conscription between 1961 and 2001. Until recently, these countries’ militaries were formed by a national officer corps, foreign - mostly Western- expert non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and foreign contract soldiers coming from different countries (Jordan, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Oman)
  • In 2018, not long after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, the Qatari government amended the National Service Law, introducing national service for women and extending its duration for men. While the national service remains voluntary for women over the age of 18, men are now expected to serve a year instead of three or four months. The new law gives eligible men only 60 days after they come of age to apply to the military and stipulates harsher punishment (up to three years in jail plus a fine) for those who fail to do so.
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  • Since the beginning of the 2020s, several articles5Jean-Loup Samaan, “The Rise of the Emirati Defense Industry,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 May 2019;  Elenora Ardemagni, “The UAE’s Military Training-Focused Foreign Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 22 October 2020,; Melissa Dalton and Hijab Shah, “Evolving UAE Military and Foreign Security Cooperation: Path Toward Military Professionalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 January 2021,; Elenora Ardemagni, “ Building New Gulf States Through Conscription,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 25 April 2018,; Elenora Ardemagni, “Gulf Monarchies’ Militarized Nationalism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 February 2019,; Zoltan Barany, “Big News! Conscription in the Gulf,” Middle East Institute, 25 January 2017,; Dr. Eman Ahmed Abdel Halim, “Implementation of Military Conscription in the Gulf,” Future for Advanced Research Studies, 12 December 2016, were written on the economic, social, and geopolitical reasons behind Gulf countries’ shift in military recruitment strategy. The security problems originating from Iran and Yemen, the willingness to exercise soft power in the region along with the volatile energy sector, and the ruptures within the rentier state model are put forward as the main justifications behind the Gulf countries’ developing defense industries and growing their armies. In this context, compulsory military service does play an important role, be it to increase the size of the army, cause deterrence in the region or create new job opportunities and a qualified workforce out of young citizens.
  • can also create intangible moral advantages, and thus have significant effects on these countries’ civil-military relations. The biggest reason for this is the symbiotic relationship that has formed over time between compulsory military service and national sentiment.  In this sense, introducing conscription shows an effort to turn these societies into nations where individuals would be bound to one another by national sentiment and not the rentier state model they have so far known.
  • To raise obedient and productive citizens who wore the same uniform, spoke the same language, and sang the same anthems, education became an important tool in the nation-building process.11Ayşe Gül Altınay and Tanıl Bora, “Ordu, Militarizm ve Milliyetçilik,” Iletişim Yayınları, (2002): 140. In Prussia, this “new form of nationalist socialization” was provided through military establishments with the hope that, after their discharge from military service, men would remain loyal to the state and transfer their sentiment and what they “learned” to the rest of the population.12
  • mandatory military service in these countries should not be seen as a way to efficiently raise strong and competent armies. First, like their Gulf neighbors, neither Qatar, Kuwait, nor the UAE is populated enough to sustain a competent standing army. Most of their populations are made of ex-pats who are not subject to conscription laws. Second, their current system of outsourcing military needs has proven to be efficient in the long run, with all three countries continuing to invest in contracting foreign soldiers to efficiently populate their armies. Therefore, the new conscription laws should be seen as a symbolic move to strengthen nationalistic bonds and ambitions.
  • paradoxically, the exact nationalistic sentiment and loyalty that the Gulf countries try to channel among their citizens can backfire if the people (including the conscripts) were to ever resent the rulers and their policies. This is rather contrary to the long-established coup-proofing strategies25After gaining their independence, most countries in the region (or rather individual leaders) have engaged in various coup-proofing measures to keep their militaries in check. There were different types of coup-measuring strategies. For example, until 2011, Hosni Mubarak, a military man himself, tried to keep the Egyptian military at bay by giving officers and the military institution economic benefits and providing an unfair competition. In Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took a different approach and choose to ouster the military as an institution completely and empowered the police force. In Sudan and Libya, former presidents Bashar and Gaddafi took a more social approach and tried to counterbalance different groups of society, especially the tribal establishments, as a buffer against the military. In the Gulf, the ruling monarchs resorted to using foreign soldiers to keep the military away from social and political affairs as much as possible. that Arab countries followed over the years. However, given the low numbers of citizens that will be drafted each year, the risk of such revolts taking place remains low.
  • In Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar, there are legal sanctions in place against anyone who fails to enlist when they become eligible and conscientious objection is not recognized. This could cause or further the feeling of oppression and resentment and trigger protests and turmoil in these countries. However, at this stage, this risk is low but still a possibility as seen in Thailand, Israel, and Armenia
Ed Webb

Russia's Middle East Gambit - Carnegie Moscow Center - Carnegie Endowment for Internati... - 1 views

  • Russia is out to raise the stakes for U.S. military intervention, which it sees as destabilizing for the world order; to minimize the impact of Islamist radicalism and extremism born out of the Arab Spring; and to try to find political solutions to a host of issues, from the civil war in Syria to Iran’s nuclear issue to post-American Afghanistan
  • In Russian society, the long and painful experience of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan gave rise to what was called “Afghan syndrome,” i.e., shunning involvement, especially with military forces, in the Muslim world. Focused on itself and its immediate neighborhood, the Russian Federation physically quit and then neglected whole regions of former Soviet influence, including the Middle East. It continued selling arms to some of its ex-allies, including Syria, but now on a commercial rather than ideological or strategic basis.
  • Iran turned out to be a responsible neighbor and a useful partner, staying away from the Chechen conflict and even helping Russia negotiate an end to the bloody civil war in Tajikistan
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  • The Syrian civil war, however, has put Russia’s relations with the West, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Israel to a serious test
  • Unlike Europeans and Americans, Russian officials did not expect Western-style democracy to follow secular authoritarianism: What they began to brace for, early on, was a great Islamist revolution engulfing the entire region
  • In the hope of getting Western support for the Russian economic modernization agenda, Moscow decided in 2011 not to stand in the way of a humanitarian intervention in Libya. It was soon bitterly disappointed, however, when the no-fly zone in Benghazi morphed into a regime change in Tripoli. The experience of being used and then ignored by the West has informed Russia’s subsequent stance on Syria
  • From Moscow’s perspective, Assad may be problematic insofar as his methods are concerned—but his enemies constitute a real threat not just to Syria, but also to other countries, including Russia
  • Russia’s image has suffered in many parts of the Arab world, where it is portrayed as a friend of authoritarian regimes and as an ally of and arms supplier to Bashar al-Assad and therefore as a friend of Iran
  • The amount of heavy lifting required from both Washington and Moscow is stunning, and the odds are heavily against success at the new Geneva conference next month, but the alternative to a political settlement is truly frightening. One obstacle is that Russia has insisted in involving Iran in Syria-related discussions, to which the Gulf Arabs and the United States strongly object. Moscow is frequently referred to as Tehran’s ally and advocate. Indeed, Russia has built a nuclear power reactor in Bushehr and has supplied Iran with a range of weapons systems. Russia, for its part, sees Iran as not so much a theocracy bent on developing nuclear weapons to terrorize the region as a power that has been in the region forever and that is likely to play a more important role in the future.
  • the Iranian theocracy has more checks and balances than the old Soviet system
  • Tehran, they think, is probably aiming for an outcome in which it stops at a relatively small step before reaching a nuclear capability and trades its restraint in exchange for dropping all sanctions against it and respect for its security interests
  • According to U.S. diplomats, Moscow cooperates more with Washington on Iran than it is usually given credit for in the mainstream Western media. Unlike many in the United States, however, Russians believe that pressuring Iran has limits of usefulness: Beyond a certain point, it becomes counterproductive, undercutting the pragmatists and empowering the bad guys that one seeks to isolate
  • Russia’s attitudes toward Israel are overwhelmingly positive. Many Russians admire the social and economic accomplishments of the Jewish state and its technological and military prowess. Intense human contacts under conditions of a visa-free regime and the lack of a language barrier with a significant portion of Israel’s population help enormously
  • Putin knows that denying or withdrawing air-defense cover is the ultimate argument he needs to hold in reserve to make Assad buy into a real power-sharing deal
  • Moscow is beginning to step out of its post-Soviet self-absorption. Its main preoccupation is with security—and Islamist extremism features as a primary threat. This is a big issue. By contrast, Russia’s interests in the Middle East are relatively modest. They are centered on oil and gas exploration deals, pipeline geopolitics, and pricing arrangements; other energy opportunities beckon in the nuclear area. While Russia’s position in the regional arms bazaar has suffered in the last decade as a result of developments in Iraq and Libya (and may yet suffer more in Syria), Moscow is clearly determined to stay in the arms business. Finally, as Russia recasts itself as a defender of traditional Christian values as well as a land of moderate Islam, it is discovering a range of humanitarian causes in the birthplace of both global religions.
  • In the energy sector, Russia has accommodated to Turkey’s new role of a regional energy hub but has worked hard to protect its own share of the European Union’s natural gas market
Ed Webb

Qatari Foreign Policy: The Changing Dynamics of an Outsize Role-Carnegie Middle East Ce... - 1 views

    A sympathetic account of Qatar's policies before and during the regional uprisings.
Ed Webb

A New Operation in Syria? - Carnegie Middle East Center - Carnegie Endowment for Intern... - 0 views

  • Ankara controls large swathes of territory in northern Syria, but its previous attempts at establishing a continuous 30-kilometer-deep safety zone along the entirety of the Turkish-Syrian border have so far failed. Turkish troops and their affiliates still do not control a stretch of around 70 kilometers east and west of the city of Kobani, as well as a larger portion of territory around the city of Qamishli, all the way to the Tigris River in the east
  • Ankara may be calculating that Russia, otherwise busy with the protracted invasion of Ukraine, may not have the time and resources to prevent a new Turkish incursion, nor the political legitimacy to object to it given its own operations in Donbas
  • With Erdoğan facing dramatically unfavorable preelection polls and a dire economic situation, including sky-rocketing inflation and declining levels of foreign investment, his temptation to rally voters around the flag and silence criticism from the opposition coalition on a subject of national interest is obvious
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  • always eager to present itself as a power independent from Russia and the West
  • if the operation proves to be successful and sustainable, it would reinforce Ankara’s plan to “voluntarily repatriate” Syrian refugees from Turkey
  • The United States maintain a small contingent of 900 troops in northeastern Syria, mainly to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. Washington’s cooperation with the YPG in this region has been one of the thorniest issues in bilateral relations between Turkey and the United States. A new Turkish operation would probably clash with U.S. interests on the ground, further aggravating the diplomatic spat between Turkey and its Western allies over the sale of U.S. warplanes, relations with Russia, and NATO enlargement.
  • a majority of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey are Sunni Arabs, so by relocating them to northern Syria Turkey would achieve the strategic objective of diluting the Kurdish populations living there
  • other Syrian areas already under Turkey’s control show signs of a lasting presence. Local administrative and security structures are appointed by Turkey, public services such as health and post offices are run by Turkey, and the de facto currency is the Turkish lira
Ed Webb

Arab Reform Bulletin - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - 1 views

  • Hamas’ supporters also have more pragmatic attitudes toward peace than many imagine. Polls conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the years before and after the 2007 rift show that Hamas followers were not relentlessly pro-violence, contrary to the popular misconception.  A majority of Hamas supporters described themselves as being broadly in favor of the peace process (55 percent on average in the polls conducted from March 2006 to December 2008, compared to 86 percent of Fatah supporters). Moreover, in a March 2006 survey conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip 70 percent of Hamas supporters and 84 percent of Fatah supporters also backed full reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples if a Palestinian state were established and recognized by Israel. Paradoxically, according to an October 2010 poll, a larger percentage of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip describe themselves as supportive of the peace process (69 percent), compared to only 58 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank. 
Ed Webb

Arab Reform Bulletin - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - 1 views

  • while Lebanese politicians talk about strengthening the LAF, most of them do not really want a strong national army. A strong LAF would mean empowered state institutions that, in turn, would weaken feudal political leaders who have been in power for decades. Lebanon’s current weak state institutions allow politicians to offer their supporters services such as medical care, education, and welfare support
  • The United States and other outsiders became increasingly aware of the LAF’s needs after it ousted an al-Qaeda inspired group entrenched in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in 2007. An underequipped, undertrained army was sent into an urban fighting environment. Commanders managed the battle via regular cell phones, and soldiers had little ammunition, no real air support, and limited intelligence.  The LAF won the battle after three months, but it cost the lives of 169 soldiers.  This confrontation showed the international community the potential value of the LAF and highlighted the importance of a strong state capable of curtailing the growth and infiltration of violent extremist groups in Lebanon. But because of the continued state of war between Lebanon and Israel, most Western countries donated insufficient, secondhand, or technologically outdated military equipment.
  • With no real defense strategy or a serious procurement budget, the LAF is pushed into a domestic security mission for which it is not prepared. Should it play that role effectively, it would clash with the multitude of local politicians protecting rogue armed supporters. The fact that it cannot ensures a weak military institution to the advantage of the same old established political elites, most of whom are former civil war warlords. This domestic role also comes at the expense of an external security role, in which the army would take over Hizbollah’s self-declared mission of protecting Lebanon against Israeli aggressions.
Ed Webb

US military accuses Russia of sending fighter jets to Libyan war | Financial Times - 0 views

  • The US military has accused Russia of deploying fighter jets to Libya to support renegade general Khalifa Haftar in a sign of Washington’s mounting concerns about Moscow’s role in the conflict in the north African state.
  • the US military said it had tracked the fourth-generation fighter jets as they flew from a Russian airbase to Libya, via Syria, where it believed the aircraft were repainted to camouflage their origin.
  • they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner
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  • Libya’s interior ministry has said the aircraft included at least six MiG-29s and two Sukhoi 24s, and had flown to Libya from Hmeimim air base in Syria. Russia and the Wagner group have deployed forces in Syria to back president Bashar al-Assad in the country’s nine-year civil war.
  • Western diplomats view Russia’s role in Libya as opportunistic — a chance for Moscow to assert its influence in the region and expand its foothold in the east Mediterranean.
  • Diplomats say hundreds of Wagner fighters have been deployed to support Gen Haftar in Libya for some time. But more recently, an estimated 2,000 Syrian fighters have been dispatched to bolster Gen Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
  • Meanwhile, Turkey has increased its support for the government in Tripoli by dispatching several thousand Syrian militias and equipment, including Hawk air defence systems, that have negated Gen Haftar’s air superiority.
  • Fighters loyal to the UN-backed government took control of al-Watiya air base this month after a battle in which Turkish drones destroyed Russian-made Pantsir air-defence systems.
  • “That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans.”
  • Frederic Wehrey, Libya specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the Africom statement “as a major bold move against Russia” but expressed doubt on whether it would “translate into a more muscular US policy on Libya”.“The big unknown is the White House . . . because there are other allies that still have a hand in the fight like France and the Emirates, so will the US want to expend the political capital [by opposing those countries too].”
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