Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Curse you Steve Czaban!

He has been advertising this new beer, Leinenkugels, on his radio show in the mornings.  I decided to give it a try.
I bought some Honey Weiss at the 7 Day store and was shocked to find that it is as expensive at Guinness!  So, I was half hoping that it would be bitter, or metalic or would give me a hangover, but unfortunately, it is a really good beer.  So, instead of sticking with the tried and true Silver Bullet at 5 for 6, I am now going to have to shell out for this $8 stuff.  Woe is me, and curses on your moustache, Czaban!

Monday, April 14, 2008

New Obama Poster

Courtesy Tennyson and Malkin

The real cause of civil wars

A reader asks: "Do you think it is possible that these characteristics are more inherent to instability and ineffective government and those the real cause of civil war? Most of the countries we looked at were African nations which have been riddled with unstable conditions for many years now. To me the relatively young and uneducated populations in these countries seem more the result of the chaos stemming from civil war rather than a cause of it. Is this different than an observer noting that an ice cream shop sold more sundaes on a hot day, therefore ice cream sales affect warmer weather?"

If I read your question correctly, you are asking if it is possible that civil war is symptom of dysfunctional governance, just as are the youth bulge and illiteracy. I think there are two responses to this: 1) Civil war is exacerbated by surplus manpower. To illustrate this point requires an examination of the youth bulge.

The youth bulge is caused when medical advances allow more people to live longer lives and also decrease infant mortality. When these medical advances occur before a society transitions from a preference for large family sizes, there develops a sizeable cohort of youth for whom there is little to do and little upward mobility. Longer life spans for older men allows older men to stay in their professions or retain their wealth longer before passing it on to their children. In polygamous societies, older men with more wealth make better marriage partners for younger women who might otherwise be available to men nearer their own age. As a consequence, these types of societies must deal with populations of young men who do not have women, and who do not have any viable means for getting ahead in society except through glory in battle. Opportunistic leaders eager to assert power and/or seize resources or wealth find it easy to recruit armies from these young men. Opportunistic leaders with armies will inevitably clash for supremacy. (Cincotta)

I think the causation looks like this: A developing nation in any economic condition experiences an increase in lifespan at the same time experiencing a decrease in infant mortality. The society begins to destabilize as young, rootless men compete violently for dwindling supplies of available wealth and wives. Opportunistic leaders recruit armies from these men. Civil war results.

An alternate answer to your question is: 2) It just doesn’t matter which came first, the chicken or the egg or, if you prefer, the hot day or the sundae. Collier has identified the ingredients that, when present, indicate a country is in or will shortly be in civil war. How those ingredients came to be present is not particularly important. The fact that these characteristics are present means that the same prescription applies; free trade, energetic peacekeeping and tutorials on government. As Collier puts it: “Our utter neglect of trade, security and governance policies for the bottom billion is a scandal -- and an opportunity. Properly used, these policies have real power, which is why they were employed for the recovery of Europe.” (Collier)


Cincotta, Richard. “State of the World 2005 Global Security Brief #2: Youth Bulge, Underemployment Raise Risks of Civil Conflict” Worldwatch Institute website March 1, 2005 at accessed 28 March 2008.

Collier, Paul. “Will the Bottom Billion Ever Catch Up?” Washington Post online 21 Oct 07 at accessed 28 MAr 08.

Argument against Sri Lanka as a counter-insurgency

It may be splitting hairs, but it seems that what is going on in Sri Lanka does not really qualify as a civil war. Consider the Correlates of War (COW) definition for Civil Wars: “To be recognized as a civil war, a conflict had to (1) occur within a generally recognized state (2) produce at least 1000 deaths per year (3) involve the national government as an active participant and (4) experience effective resistance from both the rebels and the government.” (Walter, pg 48) Combine that definition of civil war with Colliers’ construct of civil war: “a relatively high proportion of young uneducated men; an imbalance between ethnic groups, with one tending to outnumber the rest; and, a supply of natural resources like diamonds or oil which simultaneously encourages and helps to finance rebellion.” (Collier, Bottom) Then, consider that statistics for Sri Lanka in Table 1. Sri Lanka stands out from the rest of the countries in the table in literacy, average age and in the lack of a “resource curse.”

The sides in Sri Lanka appear to be two combatants contesting an international border rather than a rebel group against a sovereign country. The north and east of the island has been identified internationally as a Tamil homeland since at least 1873 when the frontier was demarcated by Britain. (Manogaran) The LTTE, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, collect taxes in the areas they control, run schools and even have a navy and an air force. (Shtender-Auerbach) The latest assessments by observers of the conflict see the war headed for stalemate. “However, since mid-2007, the Sri Lankan ground forces have not been able to show any notable successes, giving rise to fears among military observers that there could be a prolonged stalemate, leading to public disillusionment.”

The combat between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government may share some of the characteristics of civil wars seen around the world, but this conflict should fit into another category. This new category should include wars between states and quasi-states. Wars between states and quasi-states, such the one between Israel and Palestine and between China and Taiwan, feature capable combatants across a clearly demarcated frontier. Further, the sides have fought to a stalemate although considerable animosity exists on both sides and can flare into combat quickly. Removing these “state vs quasi state” conflicts from the discussion about civil wars makes the causation for civil war more clearly defined and more readily apparent from the Table 1 data.


Balachandra, P.K. “Sri Lanka may be heading for military stalemate” India eNews Feb 6 2008 at accessed 29 Mar 08.

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 2007.

Manogaran, Dr. Chelvadurai. “Sinhalese - Tamil Relations & the Politics of Space” Tamil National Forum 29 June 1997 at accessed 29 Mar 08.

Shtender-Auerbach, “What Happens When a "Poor Man's Air Force" Goes Airborne?” The Century Foundation, 5/3/2007 at accessed 29 Mar 08.

Walter, Barbara F. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 2002.

Predicting civil war with the Collier Construct

“The construct by Paul Collier states that: Civil war has nothing much to do with the legacy of colonialism, or income inequality, or the political repression of minorities. Three thing turn out to increase the risk of conflict: a relatively high proportion of young uneducated men; an imbalance between ethnic groups, with one tending to outnumber the rest; and, a supply of natural resources like diamonds or oil which simultaneously encourages and helps to finance rebellion.”

Paul Collier accepts the University of Michigan Correlates of War (COW) definition for Civil Wars. “To be recognized as a civil war, a conflict had to (1) occur within a generally recognized state (2) produce at least 1000 deaths per year (3) involve the national government as an active participant and (4) experience effective resistance from both the rebels and the government.” (Walter, pg 48) Given these assumptions, the Correlations of War Project has identified 213 conflicts since 1816 that meet these definitions. (Sarkees, pg 123-144) Going down the COW list, it is apparent that many of the COW’s civil wars feature Collier’s three increased risks. However, Collier himself points out that his observations are not able to predict which countries will have a civil war. “More fundamentally, our model cannot be used for prediction. It can tell you what structurally are the factors underlying proneness to civil war and what is sometimes more interesting, what seems to not be very important. From that, it can tell you the sort of countries that are most at risk. But it cannot tell you if Sierra Leone will have another civil war next year. That depends on a myriad of short-term events.” (Collier, Bottom, pg 19) Similarly, Collier’s observations do not hold true for every civil war. Take for instance his observation about an imbalance between ethnic groups. “One of the few low-income countries that is completely ethnically pure, Somalia, had a bloody civil war followed by complete and persistent government melt down.” (Collier, Bottom, pg 25)

The table constructed from the UN data seems to bear out Collier’s three factors. The table compared 10 states at-risk for civil war and 2 controls (United States and Great Britain), each measured in four variables: median age, percent of uneducated young men, ethnic balance and presence of natural resources, the “resource curse.” More or less arbitrarily, I grouped those countries with a median age less than 21, a school life expectancy in single digits and/or literacy of less than 51%, a dominant ethnic group that is less than 75% of the population, and the presence of a resource curse. The Sudan and the Ivory Coast meet all those criteria. One observer sees the Ivory Coast as heading towards disaster. “The Ivory Coast, therefore, is not just another little tribal war in the making — but potentially a major catastrophe.” Sudan is mired in a number of conflicts that may have had distinct beginnings, and a North-South orientation, but have devolved into something more general. “…the prospects of ending Sudan's armed conflict seem gloomy, stating that Sudan ‘entered the twenty-first century mired in not one but many civil wars.’” (Ronen)

Collier carefully notes that his factors do not predict when a country will experience civil war. For example, Bhutan, impoverished, land-locked, adjacent to two countries experiencing civil war (Nepal and Tibet), with low literacy could be a potential cite for civil war, but is instead on the verge of elections to replace a benevolent monarch. (CIA) Since Collier has identified broad variables in his construct and because Collier himself has identified the construct’s limitation, the Collier civil war construct is probably correct but required additional refinement to become more of a predictive tool than a descriptive one.


Chirot, Daniel. “Chaos in Ivory Coast: Roots and Consequences” Globalist: Power of Global Ideas website at accessed 25 Mar 08.

CIA. “Bhutan” World Factbook website at accessed 28 Mar 08.

Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 2007.

Ronen, Yehudit. “Review of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars by Douglas H. Johnson” Middle East Quarterly Spring 2004 at accessed 28 March 08.

Sarkees, Meredith Reid (2000). "The Correlates of War Data on War: An Update to 1997," Conflict Management and Peace Science, 18/1: 123-144.

Walter, Barbara F. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars (Princeton: Princeton University Press) 2002.

Lessons from the First Afghan War

Given the United States then-recent retreat from Vietnam, scholars have questioned why the Soviet Union would have invaded a small country on the periphery of its empire thereby risking getting bogged down in an foreign adventure. Michael MccGwire saw the Soviet Union’s invasion as a reasonable response to concerns about its own security on its southern frontier. “The Soviets saw Afghanistan as part of their national security zone, and their intervention was directly comparable to those in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and not some new departure.” 1 Raymond Garthoff argued that the Politburo believed the security situation in Afghanstan was so dire and such a threat to their interests that they had no choice but to intervene. Garthoff analogized that Afghanistan is to Russia as Mexico is to the United States. “…No one in the American leadership sought to understand the Soviet position by imagining a comparable parallel situation on the southern border of the United States (moreover with a hostile China and an adversarial alliance in place of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans). In such a case, it would not have been difficult to imagine an American intervention to save American lives and strategic assets and to preemptively preclude hostile presence.” 2 An Afghani observer rejected the rational geopolitical calculus as an explanation for the Soviet intervention, and instead identified the cause as the Soviet Communists’ lust for power and empire. “The concern that the Soviet leaders showed about their ‘insecurity’ of their southern borders was a mere rationalization for their drive for expansion, a drive reminiscent of nineteenth-century colonialism.” 3

The fact that Afghanistan actually bordered the Soviet Union supports Garthoff’s argument that political instability and other nations’ mischief in Afghanistan were strategic justifications for Soviet intervention. The Soviet Union had never let political challenges go unanswered on its frontiers, as MccGwire pointed out, so it was no surprise that the Soviet Union would intervene aggressively and in force as it had previously. The Soviet Union would use proxies like the Cubans or Nicaraguans in more remote insurgent battles like Angola or Latin America without injecting their own forces in those places in anything more than limited “advisor” role. Proxy wars were expensive drains on the Politburo’s treasury, but less so than would be an actual overseas deployment of an expeditionary army. Overseas proxy battles were certainly less likely than an actual Red Army deployment of provoking a response by the United States Army, and thereby actually destroying d├ętente. 4 The proof of Afghanistan’s strategic importance can be seen in the fact that a few years after the Soviet Union’s defeat there, the Soviet Union empire had broken up. While the withdrawal from Afghanistan can not be seen as a direct causal link to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the psychological damage done by the defeat there, coupled with the drain on capital that the anemic Soviet economy could not sustain, doomed the empire.

By contrast, Vietnam’s strategic importance to the United States was a more tenuous case. Many American leaders in that era ascribed to the “domino theory” when countering Communist expansionism. The domino theory explained the fear that allowing one small country on the periphery to fall to the communists would discourage neighboring states and embolden expansionist communists. According to the theory, many states would fall if one fell. Eventually, the falling states would imperil the United States. “Domino theorists held that the capture of one Third World state would allow the capture of the next, and the next. In other words, they believed Third World states were highly cumulative assets. 5 President Kennedy was a believer in this theory and made an impassioned argument in support of the theory on the Huntley Brinkley Show: “I believe it. I believe it. I think that the struggle is close enough. China is so large, looms so high just beyond the frontiers, that if South Viet-Nam went, it would not only give them an improved geographic position for a guerrilla assault on Malaya but would also give the impression that the wave of the future in Southeast Asia was China and the Communists. So I believe it.” 6

While it is clear that there was a deep belief in the wisdom of intervention in Vietnam, history has shown that America’s defeat there did not result in “dominoes” falling in Asia in any way that could be considered a threat to American power. The United States emerged in the years following defeat in Vietnam as the world’s superpower. The lack of repercussions for America’s geopolitical position following the defeat is evidence of the lack of strategic importance of the war there.

Operationally, both the US and the Soviet Union ran out of time in prosecuting their particular operational approaches to the counter-insurgency. The US eventually adopted a Philippine War -style approach that attempted to protect villagers and destroy insurgents in an attempt to allow civilian rule to take hold. The Soviets attempted to ethnically cleanse recalcitrant populations and relocate those more amenable populations into recently cleansed areas to forestall disturbances. Both of these counter-insurgency strategies, the benign and the repugnant, require time to in order to achieve the goals. As noted by Sarah Sewall, the key to a successful counter-insurgency is time. “Since a national COIN strategy is a long-term proposition, building a unified and bipartisan approach is critical for the Nation.” 7 Both the United States and the Soviet Union ran out of time and as a consequence, had to leave the battlefield in defeat.

Tactically, US forces remained effective throughout the war. Colonel Summers argued that American forces performed superbly throughout the war. American forces never lost a major engagement on the ground or in the air. 8 On the contrary, the Soviet forces performed in a desultory fashion, often committing atrocities against civilians. Observers noted that many Red Army units and their Afghani counter-parts had no interest in performing basic patrolling or rudimentary attacks that could have been devastating to the Afghan insurgency. The Red Army was poorly trained, poorly led, rife with alcoholism and engaged in systematic, sadistic hazing of conscripts. Morale was very bad. 9 The Afghan Mujahadeen were not note to have any particular tactical skill, but the Soviet Army was unable or unwilling to exploit the obvious weaknesses of the insurgency. 10

Afghanistan held more strategic significance for the Soviets than was Vietnam for the United States. Afghanistan was a restive province on the southern periphery of the Soviet empire, and to the Russian autocrats in the Politburo, Afghanistan appeared indistinguishable from neighboring countries already in the Soviet orbit. The Soviet leadership could not afford to have such a country on its southern frontier as an example of liberty and to provide manpower and materiel for insurgencies inside the Soviet Union proper. Even though the political leadership defined Afghanistan as strategically vital, the Red Army did not perform well enough to prevail in its counter-insurgency fight. In contrast, Vietnam did not represent a real strategic concern for the US, but the US military nonetheless performed admirably against the insurgency. What was common in the two counter-insurgencies, that of the US and the Soviet Union, was a lack of time to follow through to victory. Consequently, both were defeated.


1 MccGwire , Michael. Perestroika and Soviet National Security (Washington: Brookings Institution Press) 1991. Pg 94.

2 Garthoff, Raymond L. Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington: Brookings Institution Press) 1994. Pg 1074, Notes

3. Kakar, M. Hassan. Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982 (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1995. Pg 49.

4. Bialer, Seweryn. The Soviet Paradox: External Expansion, Internal Decline (New York: Knopf) 1986 . Pg 312.

5. Van Evera, Stephen. Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict (Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press) 1999. Pg 113.

6. US General Services Administration. Public Papers of the President: John F. Kennedy, 1963 (Washington: Government Printing Office) 1964 in James N. Giglio Debating the Kennedy Presidency (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield) 2002. Pg 88.

7. Sewall, Sarah. “Modernizing U.S. counterinsurgency practice: rethinking risk and developing a national strategy” Military Review, Sept-Oct, 2006 at accessed 17 March 2008.

8. Summers Jr, Harry. On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War (New York: Dell Books) 1992. Pg 47.

9. Reese, Roger R. The Soviet Military Experience: A History of the Soviet Army, 1917-1991 (London: Routledge) 2000. Pg 172.

10. Jalali, Ali Ahmad and Lester W. Grau. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War (Quantico: Marine Corps Studies and Analysis Division) 1995. Pg 404.

Thailand's First Counter-insurgency Fight

The most striking characteristic of the Thai counter-insurgency is the time it took to finally get it right. From 1965 to 1983, the Thai government groped for the strategy that would work to effectively counter the insurgency. The early Thai counter-insurgency effort looked somewhat like the early American counter-insurgency effort in Vietnam, heavy on the conventional war with little effort to redress the economic and political grievances that motivated the Maoists. Many Thais recognized that the Maoist complaints about the political system had resonance, but instead of joining the insurgency, many disaffected Thais turned their dissatisfaction to more traditionally Thai outlets like Buddhism, Thai nationalism and love of the monarchy. These outlets were more attractive to most Thais that what the Maoist in the Communist Party of Thailand were offering. The insurgency failed to grow and thrive even though the Thai military adopted many of the heavy-handed tactics of the seen in other counter-insurgency fights that generally backfired.

The unique character of the Thai people offered the counter-insurgency additional time to find the right strategy. As we have seen in the other case studies, the key variable to counter-insurgency is having the time to allow the right strategy to work. Seventeen years is a long time to fight any kind of campaign, but that kind of time is generally what is needed to be successful. The time allowed the Thai military to put into practice a counter-insurgency strategy the broad outlines of which are now familiar. The conventional military provided real security in the villages to allow grass-roots political reform to take place. Special units hunted and destroyed the military capability of the insurgents. At the national level, general political reform addressed the systemic problems that might have compelled the ideologically inclined to side with the insurgents and tip the balance away from the government.

As Jon pointed out, CPT strategic mistakes also contributed to the Thai government victory. Most of those mistakes can be attributed to the nature of communism. Communists are atheists, anti-religious, controlled by outsiders and anti-monarchical. Thus, the CPT had a hard time swimming in the sea of the Thai people who were Buddhist and traditional monarchists. The Maoists just could not change or hide their nature, and were thus always at a disadvantage in their organizing and concealment in the countryside. There is a Zen Buddhist story that goes something like this: A Buddhist master reached into a stream to save a scorpion that was drowning while a soldier stood nearby. As the master lifted the scorpion on the bank to save it from drowning, the insect stung the master, then the soldier immediately stomped the scorpion to death. The student asked why the master would save a scorpion knowing it would sting and that the soldier would kill it. “It has its nature, I have mine, he has his.”

The extent to which the CPT insurgency was wedded to Maoist ideology probably was a lucky thing for the Thai counter-insurgency as Robert mentioned. By the time the Thai counter-insurgency was heading to victory, Maoism had been discredited everywhere, including in China. Whatever political problems existed in Thailand seemed trivial compared to the prospect of foreign domination, concentration camps and bankruptcy that communism had to offer. The Thai people could see what communism wrought for their neighbors in Laos and Vietnam. Those examples had no appeal for the average Thai and that perception contributed to the defeat of the CPT.

What is up with Syria? or Never attribute to malice or conspiracy that which can be explained by stupidity or incompetence

Stratfor doesn't know: The events in Syria of September 2007 make no sense and have never made any sense. The events we have seen since February make no sense either. That is noteworthy, and we bring it to your attention. We are not saying that the events are meaningless. We are saying that we do not know their meaning. But we can't help but regard them as ominous.

This is my take: I think one point Stratfor did not make is that the Syrians have never shown 
themselves to be particularly adept at long term strategic thinking. Maybe things seem disjointed and illogical because that is the nature of Assad's thought process. Aligning themselves with North Korea, trying to build nuke plants, continuing to test the patience of the US and Israel, blatantly interfering in Lebanon without much strategic purpose...Syria does not have much of a plan except trying to punch above their weight. They are like the 5'2" tough guy who swaggers around hurling insults and threats and occasionally bullying someone even smaller...eventually someone bigger and tougher will tire of the act and crush him. Just a matter of time.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Killing People for Safety

Iain Murray wrote in the National Review Online "Not all those whose flights have been canceled will cancel their trips. Some will find slots on other airlines, but some will choose to go by car (there being no appreciable competition from rail in most markets). Automobile travel is more dangerous than commerical plane travel for long distance trips. With the number of cancellations in the thousands, we can expect very many people to have gone long distances by road who wouldn't have otherwise. There is a chance that some of these people will be involved in a fatal accident. It is plausible, therefore, that grounding the flights will have fatal consequences."

Well, duh.  Family of 4 dies in a rental car on the highway, not news.  Plane slides off the runway because some wiring was crossed, BIG NEWS.  Bureaucrats might feel some heat (that is about it, can't be fired, after all) so they shut down the air traffic grid.  The FAA would rather people die than have to answer some questions at a press conference.  But, that is the Federal Gov't for you, in a nutshell