Contributions for this issue were received from Silvia Colombo, Carolina De Simone, Federico Niglia, Sara Raffaelli, Rosa Rosanelli, Nathalie Tocci and Romeo Tomassetti.
Fuori fuoco : l'arte della guerra e il suo racconto / Maddalena Oliva. - Bologna : Odoya, c2008. - 188 p. - (Odoya Storia ; 3). - ISBN 978-88-628-8003-9
This short, reader-friendly book deals with the complex and many-faceted subject of war or, rather, modern wars in parallel with journalists' accounts of them. The job of war correspondent has evolved since the 1950s as has the way in which wars are fought. The last Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), briefly described in the book, draws the confines of the "new wars". In the author's opinion, these rapid, asymmetrical and net-centric new wars have gradually been turned into "shows". That is, they are planned and executed in the same way as one would direct a tv movie, considering the 'audience', that is the spectator who, seated comfortably at home, feels emotionally involved in the war, competent enough to be able to talk about it, but above all supportive of the reasons that triggered and fuelled it. In this way, driven by politics and the way the images and reports are broadcast on tv, war is 'transformed' into, to use a metaphor borrowed from Von Clausewitz, its very representation and perception. The effect that has to be achieved is 'shock and awe': the actions have to be seen in full detail, but not the dead troops - no flag-covered coffins, no mothers crying over their children.
The author's approach, aside from a few minor technical errors in describing the new weapons systems, is original but perhaps a little 'simplistic' in classifying and trying to identify clearly and precisely different 'kinds' of journalism or censure. In fact, the 'fog of war' described by Von Clausewitz in his masterpiece, Von Krieg, is often extended to information services or the media, but it is not always easy to say what should and what should not be shown, said or commented. The flow of information in the wars conducted from 1991 to date has been massive and it has often been difficult to identify the 'right' information to show, just as it has been difficult to maintain an overall view of the war, of its 'management' and its 'politics'. In the end, what is shown may be hard to interpret in any case without the help of specific studies and, above all, time, which can contribute to seeing the facts from new or different points of view. Nevertheless, this small book provides food for thought on important issues of the recent past which, in the medium to long term, may become the object of significant review or rethinking. (Romeo Tomassetti)
Lessons of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war / Anthony H. Cordesman ; with George Sullivan and William D. Sullivan. - Washington : The CSIS Press, c2007. - ix, 169 p. - (Significant issues series ; 29, no. 4). - ISBN 978-0-89206-505-9
Since instant military history is always dangerous and inaccurate, owing more to speculation, politics and ideological alignment than to credible sources, this author reports on the Israeli-Hezbollah war two years later, when a great deal of material has become public and he has been able to carry out a wide range of interviews, including with military officers and officials, during visits to the Middle East. Using statistics and eye witness reports from both sides, the book provides an analysis of what the war did and did not accomplish for Israel, pointing out the failures in strategy that turned what had begun as a Hezbollah raid into Israel into a serious conflict, without succeeding in making Israel any safer.
The Israeli-Hezbollah war could be an important source of lessons learned (or yet to learn) for both Israel and the US, in that it shows many similarities with the problems that the US and its allies face in Iraq and that NATO faces in Afghanistan: fighting an enemy that is often impossible to distinguish from civilians, that uses civilians to hide behind, that exploits the political impact of strikes and that exaggerates damage and killings. An important lesson would therefore be to learn how to fight in urban and populated areas, as well as in asymmetric ways that deprive conventional forces of their technical advantages. But it would also be important to develop clear plans regarding 'proportionality' so as to be ready to justify one's approach and show that attempts were made to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage, without falling into the trap of either trying to avoid the laws of war or being so bound by a strict interpretation as to not be able to fight. Underestimation of the enemy also proved to be a terrible mistake, along with the assumption that superior military power could overcome the lack of planning. Major information operations and media campaigns focused on hostile and neutral perceptions, could probably have prevented Israel from alienating Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi citizens, who have reason to fear Hezbollah and Iran.
Another lesson that both Israel and the US should learn is that the outcome of a war is not determined by tactical victories, but by the nature of conflict termination. In Israel's case, the result of the fighting is a peace process that may turn into a war process at any time, since it generated forces in the Arab world that will thrust Israel into a broader struggle with radical Arab elements. Asymmetric wars indeed involve asymmetric ideologies that, as in Vietnam, can make even major tactical victories irrelevant, since populations remain politically and ideologically hostile to the tactical victor.
The author's theory is that modern nations must learn to fight regional, cultural and global battles in the terms that other nations and cultures can understand or they risk losing the advantages that their military victories gain. In his opinion, Israel's failure in the conduct of the war was just as serious and dangerous as America's failure has been in Iraq, in the war on terrorism and to some extent in Afghanistan. Therefore, throughout this book, he aims to push Western powers to reflect upon these failures to find the right way to face the new challenges of asymmetric wars - opponents of different cultures, political systems and religious beliefs and values, as well as non-state actors (Hezbollah , al Qaida and the Islamist extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan) - avoiding to set goals that are impossible to reach and operating from a realistic perspective in warfare intelligence, targeting and battle damage assessments. (Rosa Rosanelli)
Resistance : the essence of the Islamist revolution / Alastair Crooke. - London ; New York : Pluto Press, 2009. - xviii, 302 p. - ISBN 978-0-7453-2886-7 ; 978-0-7453-2885-0 (pbk)
Alastair Crooke's Resistance is a unique study of a much-quoted, yet little known and often misunderstood phenomenon: radical political Islam. In recent years, political Islam and in particular 'radical' Islamist movements, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, have attracted much media, political as well as scholarly attention. Resistance distinguishes itself from existing publications in that it does not provide an in-depth empirical study of Islamist movements: their historical evolution, political organisation and social basis. Rather, it delves into the ideational, ideological and philosophical 'essence' of revolutionary Islamism, juxtaposing it to the philosophical essence of the West. In doing so, Crooke focuses on the relationship between religion and politics in the Muslim and Christian worlds, however in a manner that discredits essentialist readings of Islamism intent on denying its rationality.
While claiming that the conflict between Islam and the West is at its core a religious one - an argument advanced by essentialist and Orientalist thinking - Crooke does not view the conflict as one between Islam and Christianity as such, but rather as a conflict rooted in religious beliefs over what constitutes the essence of man. In view of this conflict, Crooke explains why Muslims have embarked on revolution and what revolution means to them. The argument is that revolution, while deeply rooted in religious belief, is far from being irrational and motivated by divinely inspired whimsy. It is based on reasoned historical and philosophical considerations that address the flaws in Western policies embedded as they are in a deeply Protestant rationale, which still persists despite a secular veneer. The flaws in Western policies are traced back to the Protestant understanding of the 'essence of man', enshrined in the belief in human beings' personal relationship with the divine. When applied to societal, economic and political life, this belief translates into the conviction that secular modernity and the individual pursuit of desires through the free market constitute the recipe for human welfare. Not unlike Western critical thinkers, it is precisely this 'essence' that Islamists contest, not least in view of the disasters which the pursuit of this essence has brought upon them. From colonialism and the obsessive imposition of the modern nation-state following the collapse of the Ottoman empire, through to the war on terror and neo-liberal state building, Crooke traces a line linking Western philosophical thought to the ensuing construction of Western foreign policy and its impact on the Muslim world. To articulate this contestation, Islamism calls for the rediscovery of the self, a rediscovery that comes through the repoliticisation of politics and culture, through the pursuit of justice, equity and compassion achieved by the subordination of individual whims to the pursuit of collective good.
The argument is developed in four parts. The first part explains why Muslims have rallied around resistance: the existential threats facing them that have mobilised them into reaction. The second explores the ideology of Islamist resistance. Part three applies these ideological premises to the cases of Hamas and Hezbollah, analysing the particularistic interpretations given to resistance by these two movements. Finally the book delves into the nature of violence as perpetrated by Western actors as well as the language used in the West to portray (and discredit) Islamism and its relationship with violence. Crooke's contribution, through its depth and insight, represents an essential read for those who wish to understand the philosophical underpinnings of radical Islamism and the intricate relationship between the philosophical precepts of political Islam and Western thinking. (Nathalie Tocci)
Les Frères musulmans des origines à nos jours / Amr Elshobaki. - Paris : Karthala, c2009. - 299 p. - (Homme et sociétés). - ISBN 978-2-8111-0168-8
Les Frères musulmans des origines à nos jours is a thorough and fascinating account of the origins and development of the Muslim Brotherhood. This account, written by Amr Elshobaki, director of the Department for Arab-European Studies at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) in Cairo, adopts a multidisciplinary approach with a strong emphasis on the connections between the development of Egypt and the Arab World, in its manifold dimensions, and the transformations of the movement since its appearance in 1928. The attempt is to map out the evolution of the Islamist discourse by answering some fundamental questions related to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
The first question refers to the constants and variables of Islamist discourse. Analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood's experience clearly shows that, despite its specificity, its ideology has been subject to changes and adaptations in relation to external conditions. Despite the initial emphasis on general and moral matters, the Muslim Brothers have developed a detailed and sophisticated vision of its political role within Egyptian society and how to implement it. The account then explores the nature of the changes in the positions and vocabulary of the different generations of Egyptian Muslim Brothers. In particular, the issue of consistency between Islamist discourse and the democratic functioning of the modern state is developed in detail by highlighting the Muslim Brotherhood's opening towards respect of human rights, democracy and peaceful resolution of controversies. This change took place at the beginning of the eighties and contributed to the politicisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which became one of Egypt's most prominent political movements. After a decade of exclusion from the political life, the Muslim Brothers returned to Egyptian politics with the elections of 2000, which marked a limited but significant opening of the political establishment and an increase in political participation and organised political action.
This evolution was characterised by a continuous attempt to find a balance between the space occupied by religious discourse and the one marked by the organisation's political mission. The same attempt is made in Elshobaki's account, which is rich in detail on both the ideological and dogmatic underpinnings of the movement and its organisational structure and political programme. Given the high level of technicality, the book mostly targets readers who already have a background in Islamic studies and are familiar with Egypt's socio-political development since the 1920s. It nevertheless represents a fundamental text for understanding the trajectories of political Islam, in particular in its Egyptian form, since its appearance. The aim of the book is to provide a key to penetrating the debate on its evolution and to speculate about the future of its discourse and practices. The book's main conclusion is that the phenomenon of political Islam in Egypt has undergone several transformations and different historical phases, while retaining its specificity. This attests to the elasticity of its discourse and its ability to adapt to developments in the social reality and the local political environment. The very process of entering the political arena and giving a voice to the thrust of grass-roots modernising and democratisation proves the resilience, durability and modernity of today's Muslim Brotherhood. (Silvia Colombo)
Europe and international relations
Relations internationales : une perspective européenne / Mario Telò ; préface de Robert O. Keohane. - Bruxelles : Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 2008. - 209 p. - (Etudes européennes). - ISBN 978-2-8004-1413-3
The book is halfway between a handbook and an academic contribution to the debate among theories of International Relations. The book consists of ten chapters which explore Realism, International Political Economy theories, Marxism, Constructivism, the Foreign Policy approaches to International Relations, Institutionalism and the contribution of European Studies to International Relations theory. Theories are presented, taking into account their main contribution to the discipline and considering their strengths and their weaknesses. Methodologically, however, the book fails to explore thoroughly the epistemological debate in International Relations. That is, it does not discuss whether a theory should adopt a historical case-by-case approach aimed at "understanding"or a structural-empiricist standpoint designed to 'explain', generalizing the causes and consequences of the subject matter. The book also shows some shortcomings as far as content is concerned. First and foremost, Realism, which the author deems old-fashioned, is examined much less than other theories such as Institutionalism.
Generally, the book suffers from a 'liberal' bias which originates from the author's goal of revamping International Relations theory, to take account of the existence of the European Union, which he considers an epiphenomenon of the evolving nature of the current international system. In fact, the case of the European Union is included in a broader analysis that puts into question the traditional concept of sovereignty and the primacy of the state as a result of the growth of cooperation at the global level. According to Telò, Europe constitutes "the most advanced and sophisticated laboratory" of the re-elaboration of the Westphalian paradigm. Yet, how this fits into a radical redefinition of the general thinking in International Relations theory is far from clear. One cannot gloss over the fact that the birth of the European Union could have been the result of other factors not necessarily linked to institutionalist causes but, for example, to the specific context of the bipolar confrontation that emerged during the Cold War. In addition, the success of European integration at the internal and global levels should not be overestimated, given that the European experiment remains quite isolated and is not easy to replicate.
Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable contribution in assessing how the growing phenomena of globalisation and regionalism impact on the theoretical debate, and to what extent this should entail a reconfiguration of the traditional tools through which scholars have hitherto developed the discipline. (Sara Raffaelli)
A recast partnership? : institutional dimensions of transatlantic relations / edited by Simon Serfaty. - Washington : The CSIS Press, c2008. - xiii, 226 p. - (Significant issues series ; 30, no. 1). - ISBN 978-0-89206-518-9
The time has come for something that could recall what Henry Kissinger defined as "a fresh act of creation" for the transatlantic partnership in 1973: a new beginning in 2009.
Published in the first months of 2008, this book drafts an agenda for the leaders who took office in 2009 in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, Spain and Italy. The aim is not to 'reinvent' either NATO or the European Union, but rather to recast the two main institutional dimensions of the transatlantic partnership in order to make both more effectively prepared to help their members address together the many challenges they face.
This work is part of a series of volumes published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington at the end of a two-year project. It contains essays written by distinguished scholars and is compiled by Simon Serfaty, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy at CSIS.
After an introduction outlining the issues, the eight essays first examine the state of the different Euro-Atlantic states, then the current condition of the European Union and NATO. Starting out from the recognition that both the institutions have served their members well during and since the end of the Cold War and have proved to be not only compatible, but also complementary, the contributors point out that the "Euro-Atlantic axis of stability" is still an unavoidable and imperative option for all partners. It is the only solution if one wants to avoid an otherwise inevitable weakening in a newly multipolar and challenging world. In the present world structure, the EU is in an enviable position in that it can profit from its paradoxical condition of "a power in the world without being a world power", provided that it achieves its own institutional finality. Despite Eurosceptics' announcements of its coming death, the EU is here to stay as an ever closer community of shared values with an identity that is compatible with but distinct from that of the United States. As for NATO, at 60, it needs to become adaptable and must concentrate on doing the right job without transforming into a global political "talk forum".
In the last contribution, the authors assess the status of the transatlantic partnership and recommend the adoption of a broader strategic agenda and the creation of a more comprehensive institutional structure to enhance effective cooperation between the Euro-Atlantic countries. The first step should be the creation of a 'Euro-Atlantic Forum', a sort of consultative forum that would bring together all the EU and NATO members, as well as the EU itself and the NATO Secretary-General, without either NATO or the EU abandoning its specific mission or structure. This forum could act as a strategic coordinator of the efforts of the Euro-Atlantic community.
The second step should be to overcome the traditional meaning of security in order to face the more complex issues raised today by failing states, radical militant Islam, weapons of mass destruction, energy security and global structural economic competition. Particular attention has to be drawn to the Greater Middle East, where the Euro-Atlantic community will meet its most demanding test in the next years. The contributors also point out the importance of avoiding distinctions between the security, political and economic interests of global challenges - NATO is indeed too focused on the military side and the EU's security dimension is still too limited - and suggest a convergence between the US and EU security strategies.
The book offers an interesting, policy-oriented vision of transatlantic relations. Nevertheless, as it went to press in early 2008, it obviously failed to take into account crucial events that happened later that year, such as the failure of the Irish referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon in June, the Georgia war of August, and the financial crisis that exploded in October. Despite this 'shortcoming', the volume deserves careful consideration in the way it deals with the future of "the most complete relationship in the world". (Carolina De Simone)
Italy and the UN
L'Italia e l'ONU negli anni della coesistenza competitiva, 1955-1968 / Angela Villani ; prefazione di Luciano Tosi . - Padova : CEDAM, 2007. - xxxviii, 487 p. - (Centro interuniversitario per lo studio della storia delle organizzazioni internazionali e dei processi e dei movimenti di cooperazione internazionale ; 8). - ISBN 978-88-13-27295-1
The United Nations have always played a primary role in Italy's foreign policy. For the first time, this book by Angela Villani systematically examines Italy's policy in the UN, from the country's admission in December 1955 until 1968. In the introduction, the author describes the difficulties postwar Italy had in obtaining entry, which only occurred when the United States and the Soviet Union renounced their reciprocal vetoes on a number of states. She recalls the commitment of the national diplomacy to fill the credibility gap generated by fascism and the defeat in the second world war.
Following the line laid out by Christian Democrat leader, Alcide De Gaspari, his successors continued to pursue action in the UN as a way to improve Italy's image in the eyes of the world and to relaunch the country's role in the international community. With the shift from a centre to a centre-left government at the end of the fifties and the early sixties, the role Italy had always attributed to the UN started to change as well. The United Nations increasingly became the place where the important changes affecting international relations following decolonisation and the evolution of bipolar confrontation were discussed.
At the beginning of the sixties, the international community stopped being the exclusive club it was at the end of the war and progressively took on its current configuration. Albeit with some caution due to its location in the industrialised world, Italy pursued a policy of strong opening to the issue of decolonisation and the insertion of these countries in the international community. The overall balance of this policy is uncertain, however, as it won over as friends of Italy the states that emerged from decolonisation, but was often marked by superficiality.
Extremely interesting is the use that Italy made of the United Nations to promote its policy of detente between the two blocs. With the advent of the centre-left government led by Aldo Moro, Italy was in agreement with the climate of detente between the two super powers. Yet, on some very controversial issues, such as recognition of Communist China or the end of the war in Vietnam, Italy took extremely advanced position which sometimes led to contrasts with the United States.
Certainly strategies merit special mention: the disarmament initiatives, which were carried out "with a constant search for compromise and mediation between the different positions" (312). Without contributing significantly to the achievement of the agreements, Italy agreed with and promoted the most important initiatives, from the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the Treaty of Nuclear Non-Proliferation.
In describing the actions undertaken in almost fifteen years, Villani does not indulge in the chronicling of minor facts that lack immediate impact, locating them within Italy's foreign policy strategy. In particular, the author shows how the UN progressively became a fundamental instrument of Italian foreign policy, to which to delegate the discussion and solution of important international questions.
In conclusion, this study demonstrates that Italy's action in this initial period at the UN, with all its contradictions and at times superficiality, helped to strengthen the image of the United Nations as a strategic asset of national foreign policy. (Federico Niglia)