Dark Clouds Hanging Over the Black Sea

Putin’s admiration for the Olympic flame

The Olympics have always been about stories and narratives. Athletes in sports, both obscure and relevant, represent their countries and play out the story of their nation, whether it be powerhouse nations raking in the medals or the simple story of the Jamaican bobsled team. The ability to host the event is also a story of the rise of a nation and the ability to show either one’s might or newfound brilliance on the world stage. Back in October 2013, we looked at how the story of the Sochi Olympic games were unfolding at that time. With the Winter Olympics beginning shortly, it was time revisit our intrepid heroes and villains.

One view of the Olympics has been as a giant vanity project, allowing Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin to evict Russian citizens from their homes, crack down on NGOs, gay rights activists, and roughly anybody that disagrees with the egregious cost of these games. To this list, it has recently been added that athletes will not be allowed to speak their mind, such as their displeasure at the anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia. OIC chair Thomas Bach has already stated that, though there is freedom of speech, athletes that speak their mind around the Olympic events will face punishment. The head of the Russian Olympics, Dmitry Chernyshenko, even contradicted this, saying that the athletes would only be able to express themselves at a venue far from the Olympic venues.

Skyrocketing construction costs for the Winter Olympics in Sochi

Censorship is not the only issue plaguing the Olympics. Despite seven years to prepare, and the assurances that 97% of the venues and hotels are prepared, there have been a large amount of pictures and tweets from journalists showing half finished rooms. One hotel didn’t have a reception area while another hotel wasn’t even completed. Considering that these games cost $51 billion, $11 billion more than the Beijing Olympics, the amount of corruption and ineptitude is starting to show more and more over the media. One road has cost $8.6 million, more than the whole Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. This raises the question of whether or not these games are worth it. Supposedly, the infrastructure will stay and benefit the residents of Sochi, along with increased tourism. However, Allen Sanderson and Samantha Edds explored the question of whether Olympics have an economic impact, which they found that there is no evidence to support that.

A last branch in this narrative is a concern for the security of the event. IOC chair Thomas Bach has emphasized that these games will be safe. This mostly has to do with the massive amount of security surrounding Sochi. Roughly 40,000 security forces have been sent to the region around Sochi to prevent atrocities from happening. They have also erected a “Ring of Steel” around Sochi, with checkpoints and anti-aircraft batteries, to aid in this security. Part of the paranoia surrounding the events is that terrorist leaders in Dagestan and Chechnya located only 400 miles away, such as Doku Umarov, have already stated that they are going to target the Olympic games. The other cause for concern is the bombing in December 2013 in Volgograd, something that is considered to be a decoy to drag resources away from Sochi and make it more vulnerable. The Russians have gone so far as to contract out 400 unarmed Cossacks for the duration of the Olympics.

Security around the Winter Olympics in Sochi

Despite the lack of attendance by some world leaders, the world’s games at the Olympics will continue. One of the questions that will be asked is how much all this negative press hangs over the Olympics. What will be the effects of this event after the torch has been extinguished? This is a tale with many twists and turns, with more anti-heroes than heroes. At the least, everybody will be watching Sochi to see how the story unfolds.

Leaving Libya Behind: Two Years after Qaddafi, One Year after Benghazi

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According the the U.N.’s Support Mission in Libya, the country has accumulated the largest known stockpile of man-portable defense systems in the world. There are increasing concerns about the looting and likely proliferation of these portable defense systems and the risk to local and regional stability. (Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

This past week marked the second anniversary of the death of dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, captured after an eight-month revolt against his four-decade rule in Libya. Since the country’s liberation, its transitional government has struggled with security issues and has exhibited a woeful need for the assistance of external actors that can strike a balance between smothering the nascent state and idly standing back.

The military intervention in Libya was unique in many respects. The United States, with the crucial and historically unforeseen support of the Arab League, orchestrated Operation Unified Protector, a NATO operation carried out by mostly British and French forces that deployed air strikes and imposed a no-fly zone to prevent Qaddafi forces from attacking civilian areas held by rebels. Most notably, international actors did not deploy post-conflict peacekeeping forces after the operation and have continued to maintain this low-profile approach.

Foreign actors had good reason to limit their role in the early post-conflict stages. Under the aegis of NATO and the United States, international actors have refrained from excessive involvement so as to not undermine the fragile legitimacy of the Libyan authorities—cognizant of the mixed record of United States security assistance—as bloated foreign assistance absent of investments in institutions and people that support local entrepreneurship often leads to poor governance and disincentives for exports.

In contrast with the post-conflict situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the immediate post-war situation in Libya was much calmer. The country’s uprising was a byproduct of the neighboring positive political trends in Tunisia and Egypt. Regional, tribal and other cleavages that were instigated by the 40 year authoritarian regime were temporarily put aside as diverse groups fought against Qaddafi. Key infrastructures were mostly left intact through attentive NATO military planning. And most importantly, the country was also relatively wealthy on account of its energy resources ($14,100 GDP per capita in 2010) and, therefore, less desperate for financial assistance. Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute surveys the situation likewise:  “There is a bit of a concern in Washington as well as in Libya itself that the government is seen being … too closely attached to the western powers that intervened militarily to overthrow Qaddafi and so it is better if in public, the government … attacks the US for violence and sovereignty, even if in private they are collaborating with the United States.” It is clear that for Libya to be stable and prosperous in the future, concerted and nuanced international engagement is needed.

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Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has requested help from Western governments in dealing with a growing number of jihadi groups taking advantage of Libya’s security vacuum, many of whom came in across its porous southern border. David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy visited Libya in 2011. (Source: Reuters)

Libya is devolving into anarchy and observers forecast an oncoming civil war.  Rival factions continue to act autonomously, showing they are the ultimate arbiters in a struggle between rival tribes and radical Islamist leaders. In the past year alone, more than 80 people, many of them high-ranking military and police figures, have been killed in eastern Libya.  Just last week, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped  from the Corinthia Hotel. Upon his release, the premier thanked a rival armed group for his rescue in what can be a harbinger of future threats. The tragic attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September, 11th, 2012, which resulted in the death of 4 Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, punctuated the abysmal failure to disarm and reign in the revolutionary brigades into a single national force. It now appears that southern Libya has become a new base for al-Qaeda. Can any type of government be built in such a climate? The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

When President Obama addressed the nation on Libya in 2011, he said, much to the consternation of some observers: “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are…In such cases, we should not be afraid to act–but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.” Garnering the attention of the international community has been diluted and complicated by the fact that Libya is not pivotal to the geostrategic interests of the United States vis-à-vis Egypt or Afghanistan. On the other hand, Europe’s oil flows are suddenly at risk.

The sine qua non of post-conflict nation building endures: without a security guarantee on the ground, political and economic goals are unachievable.

But this goal is not impossible and now requires imperative action. The Libyan state needs to monopolize the legitimate use of force in order to solidify its sovereignty. Ergo, NATO has recently agreed to a Libyan request to advise it on the strengthening of its security forces, an ancillary engagement that should vitally assist in the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of former combatants via a holistic approach that includes financial, social, and security incentives.  Only then can deliberations on the role of shari’a law and the appropriate balance between centralized power in Tripoli and local authorities occur within a constitutional drafting framework. If Libya’s current challenges are handled adroitly, the state could become a valuable partner against al-Qaeda in an increasingly unstable region and a vindication of a less costly approach to nation building where the United States acts at a low cost to defend human rights by putting allies in the lead.  So far these outcomes are only a chimera as states, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs alike have left Libya behind.

Standing By For the African Standby Force

Basic security and political instability have been significantly impeding African development despite the decades of aid flows to the continent. Security is necessary for sustained economic growth, but it alone does not produce development, rather its absence prevents long term growth from taking place. This, combined with political instability, undermines productivity and prevents the accumulation of private wealth and public sector growth.

Formed in 2002, the African Union is an organization composed of 53 African member states whose ambition is to foster economic integration and regional security among independent African countries. Alongside plans to create an African central bank, human rights commission, and a single African currency by 2023, the AU is also tasked with providing security to the region capable of combating the political instability and security concerns that have historically plagued the continent.

“Political instability at the local level, or conflicts that engulf regions, are together with minimal resources, the main obstacles in the way of the AU reaching the holy grail of Africa’s integration.”

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