Contributions were received from Alberto Aspidi, Emiliano Battisti, Paola Tessari and Lorenzo Vermigli.
Star spangled security : applying lessons learned over six decades safeguarding America / Harold Brown with Joyce Winslow. - Washington : Brookings Institution Press, c2012. - xvii, 277 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-0-8157-2382-0
Harold Brown's book reviews about sixty years of United States' defence policy and is partly based on the author's experience as United States Air Force Secretary under Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara and as Secretary of Defense under Jimmy Carter. He was later president of Caltech.
The book opens with a brief introduction describing the duties and prerogatives of the Secretary of Defense, namely advising the president on national security, managing the Department of Defense and directing worldwide military operations involving US armed forces. It then goes on to deal with the issues and problems of American security at the time, comparing them with present ones and often recounting anecdotes and the author's personal experiences during his long career.
Brown has not organised his book in historic or chronological order but around issues, such as budget problems, procurement modalities and relations with other international powers. This structure makes for continuous comparisons between the current situation and the one during the Cold War. In this perspective, there is an analysis of the debate on maintaining the nuclear deterrent. Having worked on the Polaris SLBM programme as a researcher, Brown strongly supports keeping the nuclear deterrent, stating that it has avoided a full-scale war between the US and the Soviet Union and is now a powerful deterrent against nuclear proliferating states (i.e. Iran and North Korea). Brown stresses the importance of the word 'joint' in the defence sector for making the armed forces more cost effective in times of budget restraints. For example, he cites the French Direction générale de l'Armament (General Directorate for Arms-DGA) as a good way to harmonise defence procurement, even though it is not applicable to the US military. Beyond such examples, the author's objective is to give suggestions, based on his personal experience, that will help uphold US leadership in the military sector, despite budget cuts.
Brown also offers his broader view of US international relations. The most important result of his analysis is that, with the fall of the USSR, the US no longer has any direct threats to its existence. Having acknowledged that, the author proposes what he considers a reasonable way for the US to deal with emerging powers, although it is somewhat debatable in some respects (for example, he assumes that leaders in Iran and North Korea will act following the Mutual Assured Destruction rules, like the US and USSR did during the Cold War). He also stresses the need to reconsider military intervention in a crisis scenario: only when US vital interests are at stake. The book is not without flaws. Having served as Secretary of the Air Force under President Johnson and later as Secretary of Defense under President Carter, Brown's analysis is focused mainly on these two periods, omitting important events or strategies that the US adopted under other administrations such as Nixon's or Reagan's.
Thus, the book's subtitle, Applying lessons learned over six decades safeguarding America, does not correspond entirely to its content. Furthermore, in the last part, Brown dedicates numerous pages to describing economic and financial policies that are not directly related to defence and security. Nevertheless, Star Spangled Security is a clear and interesting book, especially for members of the general public interested in international relations and geostrategy. In his analysis, Brown comprehensively covers a number of subjects having to do with defence, from purely military ones to the problems and strategies that were and are adopted behind the scenes. The choice of structuring the book around issues makes it easy reading. All in all, the reader comes away with a good knowledge of US security and defence challenges and responses both past and present. (Emiliano Battisti)
The EU's foreign policy : what kind of power and diplomatic action? / edited by Mario Telò, Frederik Ponjaert. - Aldershot ; Burlington : Ashgate, c2013. - xvii, 248 p. - (Globalization, Europe, and multilateralism). - ISBN 978-1-4094-6451-8; 978-1-4094-6452-5 (pbk); 978-1-4094-6453-2 (ebk); 978-1-4094-6454-9 (ePUB)
The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, together with its innovations in the institutional setup, has re-opened the debate on the EU's weaknesses and potentialities as a global security actor. This book, an edited volume part of the FP7 research project GR:EEN (Global Re-ordering: Evolution through European Networks) addresses these issues through an accurate study, especially enriched by topical and timely analyses of the most recent events in international relations.
The book is structured in three parts which reflect the multiple aspects of the EU's role in global security, considering, at the same time, its relations with the international community and its institutional apparatus. Starting from the assumption that the world is currently experiencing a significant power shift, Part I gives an interesting analysis of the position of the European Union vis-à-vis key international players and emerging powers. According to the authors, the current scenario is witnessing the end of US centrality in the security sphere and presenting the need to strengthen the Union's resilience, often underestimated. Parts II and III provide detailed insight at the institutional level into the European External Action Service (EEAS), questioning its effectiveness and its contribution to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The two parts focus - in the concluding section - on the effects brought about by the Lisbon Treaty with respect to the European Union's relations with strategic partners, especially India, Japan and China.
All the book's contributors share the conviction that the Lisbon Treaty created high expectations, but also a foreign policy apparatus that has improved the EU's capacity to revitalize strategic partnerships. However, three events have undermined this capacity: the financial crisis of the eurozone, which resulted in significant cuts in the defence budgets of most member states; the EU's disappointing performance in the Arab Spring events, characterised by a lack of leadership and a strategic approach; and finally the poor management of the Libyan crisis, which revealed the illusion of an "Europe puissance". Of these three events, the absence of a distinctive EU approach to the Libyan crisis, described as an "archetypal scenario" and a perfect testing ground for the Union, is what has most highlighted the existential crisis of the Union as a security manager.
As suggested by the authors, the most effective way for the EU to exit from this crisis is by recalibrating the EU-NATO relationship through ever greater cooperation between the two on the bases of an institutional and political merger. To this end, the authors suggest that, when it comes to security issues, the US should play the role of force enabler while the EU should take over operational leadership and achieve operational autonomy and effectiveness through NATO. In addition, pooling and sharing should be concentrated within the EU. These are all part of an innovative approach to the lack of coherence and consistency within the Union that is still hindering its management of international security, which requires credible action.
Timely and comprehensive, this book is a valuable instrument for in-depth and up-to-date study of the multiple aspects of international security management. As such, it represents a useful reference for both experts and students. In addition, by questioning traditional approaches to the European Union and calling for an innovative view of world affairs, it encourages renewed research and topical debate on the subject. (Paola Tessari)
Power and policy in Syria : intelligence services, foreign relations and democracy in the modern Middle East / Radwan Ziadeh. - Rev. paperback ed. - London ; New York : I.B. Tauris, 2013. - xxi, 228 p. - (Library of modern Middle East studies). - ISBN 978-1-78076-290-6
When this book by Radwan Ziadeh first came out, Syria was not yet embroiled in the civil war resulting from the upheavals connected to the "Arab Spring". In 2013, when the second edition was released, things had substantially changed. Today Syria is in the eye of the storm, and its situation remains fluid. Nevertheless, despite the current instability, this book is far from outdated as Ziadeh carries out a comprehensive analysis of Syrian governance and power structures under the two Assad rulers. The author argues that Syria is no different from other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world. Therefore, the outcome of its revolution won't differ either: the victory of the Free Army is "only a matter of time".
The chapters of the book are organised in chronological order, so that the author's perspective gradually shifts from Syria's past (dictatorship) to its future (democracy).
Chapter 1 deals with the establishment of Hafez al-Assad's regime. The author highlights how unity with Egypt moved Syria away from the constitutional principles on which it had been based since independence: after the separation in 1961, Syria's third republic was a fragile state with a divided elite. Assad built up rigid bureaucratic cadres that filled the institutions of the pyramid-like structure that had the president at its apex. Its three sides were the government administration, the security organs and the Baath party. Appointments were based on personal loyalty while Assad's authority was represented at all levels. The president was thus able to bring Syrian society under his control.
The next chapter analyzes the handover to Bashar al-Assad, which was carefully organised by Assad Senior. In his last years, the president improved diplomatic relations with neighbours and Western powers. Internally, he stamped out any local centres of power and any members of the establishment aiming to oppose the new regime. The loyalty-based pyramid did the rest, and the succession was efficiently carried out by 11 June 2000, the day after Hafez al-Assad died.
Chapter 3 focuses on the Damascus Spring, the two-year period (1999-2001) during which intellectuals tried to rouse Syrian civil society and demanded more democratic institutions. The governmental repression that followed suggests that a reform process had never been seriously intended by the new president, Assad Jr. Still, Ziadeh considers this moment unique in Syria's history and crucial for the development of a national opposition: different ideologies came together for change, showing that the country was mature for democracy.
Foreign policy issues are analysed in detail in the following chapter: Assad expanded Syria's diplomatic and military activity without considering internal stagnation, leading the country to the brink of isolation. Syria now faces the dilemma of "re-establishing its foreign policy bases while keeping its national options". Quoting Paul Kennedy, Ziadeh argues that the solution is "strategic retraction", namely "the gradual withdrawal from some commitments with a view to establishing domestic politics on new footings". This way, the Syrian government may be able to identify its primary interests, and regain local support and international legitimacy. The idea of a democratic turn lies behind such a process.
Chapter 5 examines the relationship between religion and politics in Syria, in an attempt to predict some of the features of the Syrian political arena after Assad. In particular, the author focuses on two elements: the National Honour Pact for Political Work, the document through which the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood committed itself to democracy; and the positive influence that Assad's "containment strategy" on religion could have on the country's political future. Assad's policy of respecting all religious sensibilities, and his positive attitude towards moderate Islam, has prevented the development of a radical opposition to the regime based on Muslim values. Therefore, the author says, the emergence of religious extremism is highly unlikely in Syrian society in the future. Moreover, the author believes that moderate Islam and religious tolerance are going to prevail after the revolution.
The broad, multi-faceted approach to the Syrian issue makes this work a masterpiece, unique and essential for all those interested in the future of the country and its role in the modern Middle East. There is probably no better moment to read a book like this. (Alberto Aspidi)
Power and water in the Middle East : the hidden politics of the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict / Mark Zeitoun. - London; New York : I.B. Tauris, 2012 (c2008). - xviii, 214 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-1-84885- 997-5
This book explores the power asymmetries between Israelis and their neighbouring Palestinians as related to water production and consumption. The author is a water engineer and has been studying conflict and post-conflict zones for over a decade. So his analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict is both technical and political.
The structure of the work is clear-cut, facilitated by many pictures and maps. The author's aim is to demonstrate how Israel manages to set the agenda through its three dimensions of power: hard power, bargaining power and ideational power. While the first two may be easy to understand, the third is a little more complex and can be explained as the ability to shape perspectives. On a more technical ground, Zeitoun shows how the real conflict is over agricultural water, with the Israelis imposing their 'securitisation' process by de facto embracing a "needs, not rights" discourse. This tactic allows Israeli authorities to give as much water as they want to the Palestinians, escaping any rights-sanctioned posture.
The author suggests that geography plays a very important role in allocating resources, but is not the main push-factor behind the inefficient water-sharing regime. What really drives the disparity in resources is power. Despite its neutral riparian position, Israel has been exerting a hegemonic role since the signing of the Oslo II agreement in 1995. According to Zeitoun, four eras have characterised the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict: Zionist aspirations (pre-1948), the ideological era (1948-67), the Israeli domination era (1967-95) and the Israeli hegemony era (1995-2005). These periods have spawned ever greater Israeli control over water resources. The turning point was certainly the Oslo II agreement, which basically sanctioned Israeli supremacy and set up the Joint Water Committee (JWC), a body that was to facilitate cooperation between the Israel Water Commission and the Palestinian Water Authority. However, Palestinian-Israeli relations tend to be more coercive than cooperative. This stems from the peculiar mechanism that regulates the functioning of the JWC. In fact, with the institutionalisation of this body, Israel can have a tighter grasp over water resources on its territory and exert more power and influence than its Palestinian counterpart on the West Bank. Since the Jordan River is the main source of water in the region, the Oslo II agreement literally affirmed the ban on that river for Palestinians. This can be understood as one of the three compliance-producing mechanisms that Zeitoun talks about: force, utility and normative agreement (the latter being the case here).
One of the merits of this book is that it provides evidence for its assertions through detailed and impartial analyses. The reader immediately realises that the book has been written by an engineer as it provides plenty of data, graphs and technical points. Even though they might seem to be the least intriguing and gripping parts of the book, they are nonetheless crucial for getting a real sense of the point the author wants to make.
This book unveils the hidden politics of the Palestinian-Israeli water conflict and does so with extreme precision and clarity. Hydro-strategy and hydro-politics are definitely issues to be familiar with, especially in the Middle East, as their importance is growing stronger every day. Power and Water in the Middle East provides an outstanding perspective on a controversy that needs attention and expertise from those seeking an in-depth approach to the subject. (Lorenzo Vermigli)