The CSS Blog Network

The Consequences of German Decisions

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

After the German-directed ISAF air strike on two fuel vehicles stolen by the Taliban reportedly cost civilian lives, public calls for clarification are accompanied by both palsy and hectic in Berlin. Federal elections will take place in less than 3 weeks.

What often happens when things go very wrong is that people engage in speculation and search for a scapegoat. Too seldom though, we see people take responsibility, especially in politics. Clausewitz wrote that war never is an end in itself and always serves a political purpose. Imagine now a trigger in the hands of a German soldier serving in an army with a heavy legacy; an army from a pacifistic, self-traumatized post-war state, in which military planning, strategy and even tactics are subject to widespread emotional discussions. How much politics can efficient tactics bear? » More

Iran: Options for the West

Iran: Domestic Crisis and Options for the West

Iran: Domestic Crisis and Options for the West

What are the effects of Iran’s domestic crisis on the nuclear issue?

A new analysis by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) looks at policy options available for western governments.

Roland Popp, senior researcher at the CSS, argues that the weakening of the Iranian regime is unlikely to ease negotiations with Tehran over the nuclear issue.

You can download the paper here.

Prisons and Profit

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Once upon a time, prisoners used spoons stolen at lunch to dig their way to freedom. Today’s prisoners seem to have found more comfortable methods. They prefer private helicopters to fly elegantly to freedom, as did one of Belgium’s most dangerous criminals, Ashraf Sekkaki, together with two other inmates. Apparently the aircraft was in the prison courtyard for five minutes without even encountering a guard.

Since the procedure was not as cheap as old-school methods, the trio was probably in dire need of money: Only a week after their escape, the three were suspected of having robbed a bank, a gas station and two storage facilities – all within two hours.

Their helicopter escape was not an original idea though. It seems to be a general trend in Europe, with 14 cases in the last eight years, mostly in Belgium, France and Greece. The three Belgian fugitives add to 36 others in their country alone – since the beginning of this year.

European prison services blame not only lax controls at tourist chopper rentals, but also their lack of funding at correctional facilities. There’s not even enough money to erect simple iron cables to stop choppers from landing.

Policymakers could be tempted to look across the Atlantic for money-saving, and even profit-making, solutions. With more than 2 million prisoners (more than 1 percent of the adult population) the US has found a way to create a recession-proof multimillion dollar industry out of incarcerations.

Reuters last week reported that the share price of Corrections Corporation of America has more than doubled since March. The company, which provides about half of America’s private ‘corrections solutions’ (or prisons, as they were once called) and has 77,000 beds on offer, cuts a profit of about $22 per inmate per day. Incoming CEO Damon Hininger says he would “love the opportunity” to take some of the 40,000 prisoners that must be transferred from overcrowded California prisons.

In other cases, the industry has taken a more direct approach to increasing its client base:

The Guardian reported that “[T]wo judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2,000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.” Some of the offenses were “so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes.”

With such worrying prospects, I hope that Belgian prison services will find other ways to deal with their lack of funding.

Strange Things in the Sky

Arnold_crescent_1947

American businessman Kenneth Arnold pointing out a drawing of an UFO he saw on June 24, 1947 while flying his private plane near Mount Rainier, Washington.

The UK Ministry of Defence has released some 4000 pages of previously classified files on UFOs. The sightings documented were between 1981 and 1996 and include observations by private citizens and members of the military such as fighter pilots and other personnel.

Interestingly enough, according to the Times, the yearly sightings of UFOs in the UK increased after the first screening of the X-Files. However you want to interpret this, some disturbing facts remain:

As Nick Pope, a former head of the MoD’s UFO desk is quoted by the Times:

“There are some fascinating cases here [in the released files] and while we could explain 95 per cent of the sightings, the rest were a genuine mystery. We were particularly concerned by near misses with aircraft and cases where UFOs were seen close to military bases.”

So the MoD admits that there are unknown flying objects that can’t be explained and that show up around military bases. Yet people doing research on UFOs are frequently ridiculed and named lunatics by the media and academia.

Can anyone who takes his job in security policy seriously disregard the fact that something is flying around over our heads and we have no idea what it is?

What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr

Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.
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