Tag Archives: counterinsurgency

What does Hugo Chavez’s death mean for the FARC?

The Colombian state’s chief antagonist for over half a century has been the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC. After experiencing unprecedented growth in the 1990s they posed a serious threat to Colombian security especially after, then Colombian president, Andres Pastrana ceded a switzerland-sized piece of territory to the left-wing guerrillas in the hope they would attend the negotiation table.

Coupled with this swell in revolutionary zeal in Colombia, was the rise of populist left-wing politics in the Latin American region, spearheaded by the exuberant Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Unpopular already with the U.S. owing to his propagandising anti-American speeches, revelations of his political and material support for the FARC did not sit well with Colombia or their U.S. allies.

In 2000, Olga Marin, the daughter of FARC leader, Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda attended the Latin American Parliament held in Venezuela’s legislative chamber. Colombian officials claimed Venezuelan lawmakers had organised the forum. This confirmed to skeptics Venezuela’s sympathy towards the marxist guerrillas – by this time termed terrorists by the U.S. State Department – and willingness to provide the FARC with political legitimacy.

But what does Chavez’s death mean for the FARC, and what obstacles do his death conjure for the revolutionary forces of Colombia?

Chavez’s sympathetic overtures to the FARC earned him the nickname, “Angel” in FARC circles. His country had welcomed the guerrillas, providing them with refuge and an opportunity to resupply; far away from the jurisdiction of the Colombian military. Venezuela is to Colombia and the FARC, what Pakistan is to Afghanistan and the Taliban, or al Qaeda. One of the greatest obstacles to campaign success in counterinsurgency is porous borders; international law does not legislate for invading “neutrals” or neighbouring allies. The hysteria in Pakistan following the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s luxury villa is testament enough to this. With FARC rebels fleeing into Venezuela, the Colombian military with it’s U.S. assistance was not able to follow. This kind of maneuverability is an explanation for FARC’s longevity despite Colombia’s status as the third highest recipient of U.S. aid. Without this kind of collusion, the FARC would still be able to disappear into the likes of Ecuador, however it would still prove disastrous to the organisation should Chavez’s replacement lean closer to the U.S. and tighten the Venezuelan border.

Diego Arria, a former Caracas governor and Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations claims that Chavez asked that the FARC be removed from the list of terrorist organisations, insisting they had “deserved recognition” for their “political project”. Yet he later attempted to chair the negotiation for the release of FARC hostages. Whether this was with genuine humanitarian intention is debatable. However it can certainly be interpreted as a further attempt to enhance the FARC’s political status. Most of us are aware of the mantra: “We do not negotiate with terrorists”. Chavez’s actions rendered this slogan moot and provided them with a legitimacy and respect that by definition they shouldn’t have ever received. Again, should Chavez’s replacement be less disposed to campaigning for FARC’s recognition they risk being further embroiled in the war on terror with no political ally.

Chavez also allegedly assisted the FARC materially with high-tech weapons, ammunition and substantial funding. This provided the marxist rebels with some chance against the increasingly U.S.-aided Colombian military. In this respect, both forces were able to up their game. There is no doubt that U.S. aid will continue to pour in, yet question marks certainly arise with Chavez’s death in regards to Venezuela’s commitment. If a protege of Chavez fails to enter office, the FARC face losing extensive military and financial support. This is especially worrying for them as Colombian president Alvaro Uribe continues his successful hardline crackdown on the rebels with impressive results. Many of it’s leaders have been put down in recent years and it’s numbers have halved in numerical strength. Dwindling outside support in addition to dwindling numbers does not bode well for Colombia’s revolution.

What will happen in Colombia is impossible to tell so soon, but Venezuela’s link to the stability of Colombia is undeniable. If Chavez’s death equates to the expiry of his brand of populist socialism, Colombia’s government could be provided with an unexpected boon in their fight against the FARC. Any successive leader that can be more closely influenced by Obama and the U.S. government would be a devastating blow to an organisation already facing a bust, to their boom in the mid 90s. Colombia will watch proceedings in Venezuela very closely – that’s for sure.

Find the published article at MouthLondon here.

Why Soldiers Shouldn’t Earn Footballer’s Wages

“Soldiers should earn footballers wages”. Yes, and I should be having it off with Mila Kunis whenever I fancy. Alas, I’ve heard she’s taken. But allow me to get back on track…

Witnessing people exasperate over the injustices of the respective salaries of professional footballers and professional soldiers is essentially as fruitless as Findus lasagne is beef-less. Saying it makes you look good, but is it going to change anything? In short, no. But have the champions of this pointless campaign actually thought about the ramifications?

Now don’t get me wrong; this is by no means some form of anti-establishment dig at the armed forces. As a student of war, I am no stranger to the horrors these men and women face and this article is by no means an attempt to belittle what they do. Simply, certain reasons point to certain naiveties regarding this issue.

Disclaimer out of the way, let us consider the true nature of the beast. In the Barclays Premier League, five and six-figure weekly salaries are commonplace. But as footballers more than often demonstrate: money corrupts. When we hark back to the days before football became about oil and arabic royal families, we reminisce fondly about the proper blokes that used to grace our screens. The ’66 World Cup winners are never questioned or scrutinized in the same way that modern footballers are. Huge salaries have metamorphosized the beast into a generation of nightclub brawling, adulterous prima donnas; sometimes worse. 

The Championship, also no stranger to high wages, has provided a convenient case study. Brighton and Hove Albion players, George Barker (21), Lewis Dunk (21), and Anton Rodgers (19), for instance, currently face charges of sexual assault and voyeurism. Crimes I believe can be pinned down to an unwavering sense of superiority their status as footballers has fostered in their tiny minds. A combination of newly-found wealth and fame was a toxic combination for their moral character.

Now I love football as much as the next guy but lets consider the generalisations. It’s a game played by guys with more air between their ears than a playground air-floater. If we apply a similar filter to those that enlist in the armed forces, you see that many choose to join the army because they are poor academically or need the discipline the army provides. What if these guys not too dissimilar from the crop that are blessed with footballing ability saw their moral compass completely skewed by money?

Footballers’ antics are simply tabloid-fodder and relatively danger-proof to most others. Yet their morally corrosive salaries would have calamitous effects for any members of a military force. Within a modern war-zone any manifestation of a loss in discipline is political ammunition to the enemy. If any troops went on trial for sexual assault and voyeurism, it wouldn’t escape the journalists and would provide jihadist campaigners with a rallying cry for new recruits. Winning the hearts and minds of the local populace would be incredibly difficult if soldiers began acting on impulse, operating with a god-complex brought on by a sudden increase in wages.

Although low, our soldiers’ modest salaries discourage the type of petulant and reckless behaviour exhibited by the superstars. Armies have their fair share of cowboys mind. Think Abu Ghraib, think the murder of 16 Afghan citizens by a rogue U.S. soldier. These morally repugnant incidents, with their potential to undermine the entire war-effort are without the devilish influence of six figures.  Within the status quo uniformity is stressed; increased salaries would unravel the very pillars of hierarchical military service. Footballers’ wages are the last thing the military needs; prima-donnas armed with automated weapons would have the Taliban rubbing their hands with glee. It is vital that soldiers are able to fit their egos in their helmets.

Say a soldier receives a players-style contract. Typically there would be a goal bonus incentive. What would be the soldier equivalent? Kill quotas. Quotas are a bad idea at the best of times, in fact kill quotas are a positively nuclear idea. The kind of nuclear bomb that you arm by hand, and then seem surprised that it blew up in your face. Not only do they completely conflict with everything counterinsurgency teaches, i.e. the prevalence of minimum force and rules of engagement, they have so much scope for escalation and error. Heed the lesson of Vietnam’s Phoenix Program. The intelligence collation program, following the introduction of quota, devolved into an assassination campaign. Due to quota pressures, research got sloppy and many innocents fell victim to South Vietnamese death squads. Although defeating political subversion in rural Vietnam, we all know how America’s political war in Vietnam went. Are we all starting to see how many worlds apart balls and bullets are?

On a more practical level, why would a soldier return for a second tour? Within six months they’ve already made enough money to never need to go back; they’ve solved the financial or employment problems that forced them to enlist in the first place. After their first tour most would bid that war-zone adieu: “See you Afghanistan, and thank-you very much”. Would the army even have the logistic capability to command the amount of men that would want to join the first deployment?

Also where is this money coming from? New wages couldn’t be plucked – like the proverbial rabbit -from the magicians hat. Not unless you fill the rabbit shaped hole with other aspects of defence spending; how about the provision for new weapons, new equipment, technical support, or intelligence collection? For those that don’t believe in magic, everyone loves a baking analogy.  It would be like decorating a cake, but in order to buy the frosting you had to give up the mouthwatering multi-layered sponge to the confectioner. Yes, you’re going to have great looking frosting but you’ve got nothing to support it, rendering it well and truly moot. Everything that supports the troops on the front line from logistics to intelligence reports – the various layers of the cake – would have to be sacrificed for the ginormous salaries. But what would be the point? Without this support, the soldiers wouldn’t return home to receive their frosting.

One final, perhaps less serious, argument against raising soldier’s wages astronomically is a socialite group we all like to mock – the WAGs. In this generation even the lower branches of the footballing tree earn ridiculous sums, and with every new contract we see another lad-mag graduate promoted to this conveyor belt of unsuccessful fashion labels. The Kardashians of this world demonstrate that with money you can be famous for, well… erm… just being wealthy. Imagine the influx of drivel we’d be exposed to if our soldiers’ WAGs enrolled in this vitriolic school of reality weddings and big tits. What would this mean for Gareth Malone’s Military Wives Choir? Well they wouldn’t be singing to raise money for their troops. They’d be stumbling out of nightclubs; muff exposed to the cold winds and flash of a paparazzi camera. Camp Bastion does not need an OK! magazine culture.

As I hope you can see, the moral bankruptcy of the rich with their money, and I mean a lot of money, is not one that the armed forces needs. Perhaps I’m being too over-simplistic and attributing too much of footballers’ behaviour to money. But when I was writing this article, my greatest conviction came from a recurring thought of Theo Walcott as a soldier. This £100,000-a-week numpty, so detached from reality because of his inflated wealth, once used FIFA terminology to describe his assist to Cesc Fabregas (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAEdSSIJTIg). Put this into a military context and he’s just massacred an entire airport. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOg8NA3XN2s).

For the published article at Sabotage Times, click here.

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