Contributions were received from Francesca Capano, Rosita di Peri, Andrea Frontini, Marco Marilli, Giordano Merlicco, Rocco Polin and Federico Ruzzi.
North Africa and the Middle East
L'Africa mediterranea : storia e futuro / a cura di Karim Mezran, Silvia Colombo, Saskia van Genugten. - Roma : Donzelli, c2011. - xiv, 222 p. : ill. (c. geogr.) - (Interventi). - ISBN 978-88-6036-591-0
The protests under way in the Mediterranean region and the Arab world have forced researchers, experts and media commentators to deal with an area that seemed to have entered a sort of limbo of neglect. The only exceptions were issues linked to illegal immigration to Europe, international terrorism and gas and oil supplies. The unprecedented request for information and analysis that emerged in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution of February 2011 has been met by an impressive number of initiatives and publications, which have however frequently responded to the needs and timeframes of the information industry, while lacking quality and accuracy.
Other analyses that have appeared over the course of the last few months have been based on old material refurbished to suit the new contingencies. On the one hand, the tumultuous nature of the events does not allow for predictions or scenarios and, on the other, it reveals that the assessments of the so-called 'Arab spring' made so far are not very helpful for fully understanding the processes under way.
L'Africa mediterranea is a clear, concise and effective volume that seeks to provide a broader picture of the events still unfolding in the region. The book does not attempt to formulate scenarios for the future of the region - although each chapter has a section devoted to the medium - to long-term outlook of the countries under scrutiny and of the whole region - but what it does offer is a reflection on the past. The history of these countries as well as their political, social and cultural development are fundamental for grasping the present and for grounding contemporary events in the past.
Looking at the past also makes it possible to identify a fil rouge that ties all the contributions to the volume together. Although most of the area studies in the last twenty years have underscored the lack of change prevailing in the Mediterranean region, due to the resilience of various forms of authoritarian rule, the analyses presented in this book show the extent to which the momentous changes that are taking place in the region have their roots in past dynamics and developments. In this light, the presumed Arab exceptionalism is rejected and the factors of change and continuity in these Mediterranean countries identified.
The book is divided into two parts. The first traces the development of the countries of North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia) plus Egypt. The second part assesses some issues that are not country-specific but rather cover the entire region, such as relations with the West, the main socio-economic trends in the region and the role of the new communication technologies, such as Twitter and Facebook.
In conclusion, this volume is an invaluable instrument for understanding a region that has sometimes been neglected in the literature in Italian and offers complete and accessible information to both those who are approaching the Mediterranean region for the first time and those who have studied it for a long time. It does this from a multidimensional perspective that combines a strong academic underpinning with the policy-oriented insights developed by the authors and the editors of the volume. (Rosita Di Peri, also in Italian)
Analysing desecuritisation: the case of the Israeli-Palestinian peace education and water management / by Bezen Balamir Coskun. - Newcastle : Cambridge Scholars, 2011. - 195 p. - ISBN 978-1-4438-2731-7
The author, Assistant Professor at Zirve University and researcher at the Zirve University Middle East Strategic Research Center, focuses his analysis on the desecuritisation process in Israeli-Palestinian civil society. Ideally, the book can be divided into three sections: the first part (Chapter One) deals with the 'securitisation theory', as developed by the Copenhagen School (COPRI), introducing the concept of 'desecuritisation' and underlining that it has been undertheorised by the scholars of the Copenhagen School. The second part (Chapters Two, Three and Four) draws a kind of historical timeline of Israeli-Palestinian relations in the formal field of high politics, filtering them through the lenses of securitisation (and desecuritisation) theory. The last part (Chapters Five and Six) shifts the focus to civil society, discussing the role of cooperation in water resources management and peace education as a means to pave the way for a concrete desecuritisation process in the realm of high politics. Finally, the last chapter is dedicated to the conclusions. The investigation is conducted using an adaptive approach, which provides an interplay of theoretical ideas and empirical data: formal discourses, interviews, opinion polls and statistics are the main sources of data.
The aim of the book is to apply the securitisation theory to the Israeli-Palestinian case, introducing the concept of desecuritisation to further develop the whole theory. Securitisation is a theoretical approach to studying the transformation of an issue into a security problem: it is defined as the shift from normal to emergency politics. The theory is based on a number of elements: speech acts, securitising actors, audience and facilitating conditions. Vice versa, desecuritisation is "the process in which a political community downgrades or ceases to treat something as an existential threat (...)" and is characterised by the same elements. In the Israeli-Palestinian case, the move from threat rhetoric to 'asecurity' involves the civil societies, since the process is strictly linked to the audience's perception of the nature of the threat, namely, the perception of 'the other side'.
After analysing the political and historical circumstances that led Israelis and Palestinians into a "vicious circle of securitizations", the author presents the Water Resources Management and Peace Education Programs as tools for civil society to use to play a key role in the informal process of desecuritisation. In both fields, cooperation and coordination between Israeli and Palestinian civil societies continued even after the failure of the Oslo process, demonstrating that they wanted to contrast the negative effects of violence. The re-evaluation of the societal perception of 'the other' is central in contributing to the peace-making process: this is why Israeli and Palestinians civil societies have had an important role in the desecuritisation process. However, their success has been hampered by the reluctance of high politics to transform the peace-building process into an actual peace-making one. As the author stresses, desecuritisation also requires the political will to provide a resolution to the conflict.
The most attractive aspect of the book is its contribution to the Copenhagen School's securitisation theory. By applying it to an empirical case and further developing the 'desecuritisation' framework, it clearly demonstrates the merits and flaws of the theory and contributes to its comprehensiveness, improving its consistency with reality. The book is strongly recommended to any reader interested in the Middle East and/or in International Relations theories: it does not require any particular previous knowledge of either the securitisation theory or the Israeli-Palestinian test case, since everything is clearly explained. (Francesca Capano)
C'era una volta la Libia : 1911-2011 storia e cronaca / a cura di Antonello Biagini. - Torino : Miraggi, 2011. - 121 p. : ill. - (Contrappunti). - ISBN 978-88-969101-4-6
In September 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire and started its colonial conquest of Libya. There were two main reasons for Italy's intervention in Africa. First, Italy wanted to assert itself as a major actor in international politics. But, secondly, 50 years after its unification Italy was still a fragile state, weakened by the stark differences between the industrialised North and the mainly rural South. The political tradition dating back to Francesco Crispi viewed colonialism as a possible solution to Italy's economic and social woes.
As explained by Biagini, Italy's foreign policy extended in two main directions, the Balkans to the east and Northern Africa to the south. This was due to obvious geographical reasons, but also to the international political context of the time. In both the Balkans and North Africa Italy faced a decaying Ottoman Empire which, despite the attempts of the Young Turks movement, could not overcome its internal crisis and stop the gradual loss of its territories. While the Libyan war boosted Italy's potential in international politics, it also dealt a major blow to the Ottoman Empire, which finally disappeared after World War One.
The military conquest of Libya by the Italian army is described by Andrea Carteny in the first chapter. Italian troops faced an unexpected resistance in Libya, mainly led by the Arab population, while the Ottoman garrison basically operated as a coordinating network for local fighters. But the Italian army had a full-scale strategy that combined military operations with civilian assistance, aimed at winning local inhabitants' hearts and minds. Furthermore, the Italian officials managed to persuade the tribal leaders to give up their resistance and switch loyalties with the promise of giving them a political role in the future colonial administration of the country.
While colonialism was a matter of international prestige for the Italian ruling elite, in the Italian press the conquest of Libya was presented as a means to solve Italy's internal problems and improve social and economical conditions in southern Italy. As described by Roberto Reali in the second chapter, those who favoured the intervention claimed that the conquest of Libya would grant the southern Italian regions a major role and offer its inhabitants better living conditions.
In this framework, nationalist ideologues proposed the theory of 'proletarian colonialism', later espoused by the poet Giovanni Pascoli. This theory distinguished between proletarian nations such as Italy, and plutocratic nations such as France and Great Britain. Thus it justified Italian colonialism as a way of spreading Italy's proletarian civilisation while opposing rival French and British colonialism.
In the last chapter, Gabriele Natalizia analyses modern Italy's relations with Libya. Bilateral relations have often been troubled by Italy's colonial past, but the signature of the 2008 Friendship Treaty allowed the two countries to settle historical matters and to lay the groundwork for a stategic partnership. Now, with the emergence of a new government in Libya, Italy's presence in the African country seems disputed by the ambitions of rival European nations. Still, the author believes that Italy has considerable leverage at its disposal and, if Rome were to develop a coherent approach towards Libya, could succeed in maintaining its special relationship with Tripoli. (Giordano Merlicco, also in Italian)
Defining Iran : politics of resistance / Shabnam J. Holliday. - Farnham ; Burlington : Ashgate, c2011. - xv, 180 p. - ISBN 978-1-4094-0523-8 ; 978-1-4094-0524-5 (ebk)
In this book, Shabnam Holliday deconstructs the idea of Iranian national identity by focussing on the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and the dynamics of the 2009 presidential elections in the country. To this end, the author undertakes an in-depth analysis of numerous texts - especially public speeches - in order to show how competing constructions of Iranian national identity are reflected in state and non-state discourses. Holliday shows how the traditionally competing narratives of Iraniyat (i.e. Iran's pre-Islamic culture and heritage) and Islamiyat (i.e. Iran's Islamic culture and heritage) were actually merged and reinvented at state level during Khatami's presidency. This thus confirms the existence of a fluid and often contested identity construction underpinning the Islamic Republic's state apparatus, which can be traced back to the forging of modern Iran under the Pahlavi regime (1925-79).
The author also illustrates how important contemporary dynamics have proved to be in shaping discourses on national identity at the non-state level. According to Holliday, a discourse of Iranian civic national identity is slowly emerging in the country's political culture, though somewhat amorphously, as was witnessed in the case of the so-called 'Green Movement' in 2009. Altogether, the analyses of both state and non-state discourses highlight the complexity and continuous renegotiation of Iranian identity, and the direct impact this has on the nature of the Iranian state as a political actor at both domestic and international levels.
On the one hand, the existence of different constructions of national identity clearly impacts the domestic political debate since it results in an ever-changing power interaction between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses. On the other hand, at international level, the inherent intricacy of the Islamic Republic also plays a significant role in shaping the country's relationship with the West, which - being a socially constructed 'other' - represents an integral component of Iran's self-construction, due mainly to the value attached to national sovereignty and 'anti-imperialism' in many constructions of Iranian national identity. This does not mean, however, that the different narratives of national identity coexist peacefully, as was witnessed in the dramatic events following the 2009 presidential elections. Although Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was relatively successful in quashing any competing construction of Iran, its mere survival, according to Holliday, attests to the possibility for social and potentially political change in the country.
On the whole, the book gives an interesting post-structuralist perspective on Iran's national identity, shedding light on some of the complex and fluid self-representation narratives in both the country's state apparatus and its embryonic civil society. Although sometimes excessively analytical for a non-IR scholar, Holliday's work nonetheless provides a valid contribution to a better understanding of Iran's domestic politics as well as its current posture on the international scene. This seems even more important if one considers how deeply the so-called 'Arab spring' is challenging the features of statehood in several countries in the region, including Iran itself. From this point of view, the author's work represents a good theoretical path for further investigation of the role that identity construction plays in shaping a country's domestic and foreign policies. (Andrea Frontini)
Egypt and the politics of change in the Arab Middle East / Robert Bowker - Cheltenham; Northampton : Edward Elgar, c2010. - xiv, 225 p. - ISBN 978-1-84844-865-0
When Australian scholar and former ambassador to Egypt Robert Bowker looks at contemporary Middle East, what he sees is a battlefield. The battle he refers to, however, is not the never ending and much discussed Arab-Israeli conflict, but rather a more fundamental struggle that is taking place within Arab societies: between the forces of change and those of the status quo.
This work, published just a few months before the outbreak of the 'Arab spring', provides a general background analysis of the issues that are shaping politics and society in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab Middle East. It can thus be extremely useful for putting recent events into context and for understanding that they are only a part - however important - of a larger struggle that did not start in January 2011 and will most probably not end any time soon.
In Bowker's analysis, the forces of change are partially externally generated as a result of globalisation and growing economic interdependence and partially the outcome of the endogenous evolution of Arab societies. Indeed, one of the merits of this book is the impressive array of data documenting that evolution in diverse fields such as education, media access, women empowerment and business models. Arab societies have indeed undergone a radical transformation in the past few decades and Bowker is acutely aware that those changes are destined to have a profound impact on the political culture of the region and ultimately on the future prospects of Arab regimes.
At the same time, Bowker also provides a careful assessment of the so-called forces of the status quo: the traditional values of a society in which women empowerment and individual initiative are still met with suspicion and hostility, the resilience of the "shadow state" with its informal networks of patronage and clientele and its pockets of privilege, the role of the army and of the security forces, the challenges posed by the fragmentation of society, the growing influence of Islamists and so on. The government itself is divided - in Bowker's view - between the need to reform and accommodate the changes taking place in society and the need to retain control and ensure the survival of the system.
Of course, much has happened in the Arab world since the publication of this book, and some of its analyses and predictions have been proven wrong by events. For instance, Bowker certainly underestimated the potential for political activism harboured by the younger generation (85) and was mistaken in predicting that change would be achieved through gradual reforms rather than sudden revolutions (183). However, the aim of this work was not to make micro-predictions about when and how Arab regimes would be forced to change, but rather to underline how powerful the drivers of change are in Arab societies. A message that recent events have, if anything, reinforced. At the same time, Bowker never tires of reminding us that the resistance to change by the forces of the status quo should not be underestimated and that the evolution of Arab societies depends on a struggle which will not be easy or short. (Rocco Polin)
Complex peace operations and civil-military relations : winning the peace / Robert Egnell. - London and New York : Routledge, 2011 (c2009). - xii, 219 p. - (Routledge military studies). - ISBN 978-0-415-49023-8 ; 978-0-415-66509-4 (pbk) ; 978-0-203-87623-7 (ebk)
The fall of the Berlin Wall challenged the traditional strategic focus on large-scale interstate warfare. The greatest security challenges of today and the near future are failing states, rogue states and regional insecurity with global repercussions. Applying traditional warfare methods and organisations to new conflicts risks leading to protracted operations and the failure to achieve the political aims. The traits of contemporary and future complex peace operations therefore require a substantive rethinking of the nature of military organisations as well as the defence establishment as a whole, including the civil-military interface at the strategic level.
This book by Robert Egnell explains how civil-military integration improves both military effectiveness and operational success. The author disputes Samuel Huntington's theory of a clear separation between political and military leaderships to maximise military strength and effectiveness. As argued by Huntington in his work The Soldier and the State, political interference in military affairs will decrease military professionalism and effectiveness in conducting conventional warfare. However, his non-integrated approach shows its limits when applied to counter-insurgency and post-conflict reconstruction. Egnell believes that in complex peace operations, instead of considering the civil-military problematique as a zero-sum game in which military science and political purpose are segregated and balanced, military and civilian stakeholders have to seek synergetic effects to strengthen their effectiveness and control capabilities.
The book is structured in four parts. The first one formulates the theoretical framework to be used and refined in the book. The second and third parts analyse respectively US and British patterns of civil-military relations, their way of waging war, and their approach to complex peace operations and operational failure in Iraq. The last part aims at evaluating the theoretical framework and drawing conclusions regarding the impact of the different patterns of civil-military relations analysed. This is achieved by comparing and contrasting the data from the US and British cases.
Egnell suggests that the American competitive culture of checks and balances has hardly allowed for the development of structures for interagency cooperation and coordination. Where different forms of interagency structures do exist, the culture of competition and distrust results in the interagency working groups and committees lacking the authority to conduct meaningful work. Even within the Department of Defense, the civilian and military sections are not well integrated, so that pure military advice and Huntington's principle of objective civilian control remain intact. By preventing the adjustment of military activities to different political aims, this structure of divided political decision-making and military implementation directly affects the US conduct of non-traditional operations.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the British system features instead a deeply integrated civil-military structure that ensures a military understanding of government policy, as well as politically informed military advice. In this vein, the flexibility and innovation of civilian-military cooperation and the 'minimum use of force' policy have made fighting counter-insurgencies in both Malaya and Sierra Leone successful. Instead, when the UK did not stick to civil-military cooperation and to joint efforts and commands, as was the case in Iraq, it failed to obtain remarkable results.
The book is well structured and successfully identifies the missing variable in the analysis of complex peace operations - namely the nature of the civil-military interface and its impact. It makes an important contribution to the body of literature that seeks to improve the operational conduct and effectiveness of the military in contemporary irregular warfare. Egnell suggests that well-functioning interagency structures and a cooperative working culture of trust and mutual understanding provide a more balanced view of the functional imperative of the armed forces. Thus, structurally integrated civil-military relations result in armed forces that are able to carry out any task assigned them - especially in complex peace operations. Egnell's work should therefore interest not only students of peace operations, civil-military relations and international relations in general, but also US and British military and civilian officers seeking to improve military effectiveness in asymmetric warfare. (Marco Marilli)
Democracy's arsenal : creating a twenty-first-century defense industry / Jacques S. Gansler. - Cambridge ; London : The MIT Press, c2011. - xiv, 432 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-0-262-07299-1
In times of increasing defence budget constraints and of continuous geopolitical redefinition of the international context, Gansler's Democracy's Arsenal, benefiting from the author's past academic studies and experience as Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, provides an interesting analysis of the United States defence industry. After shedding light on the mechanisms underpinning the US defence industry's historical evolution, the author identifies its major strengths and weaknesses and puts forward suggestions to improve its ability to face current and future challenges.
The book first outlines the evolution of the US defence industry since the end of Cold War, paying particular attention to the consolidation and merger processes that took place in the nineties. It then concisely goes over the main stakeholders (that is, the administration, companies and subcontractors) that compose the current defence architecture. The increasing difficulties the US defence industry is facing in fulfilling armed forces' requirements already emerges from this introductory overview. Indeed, as the author explains, the US defence industry has failed to adapt to the new homeland security priorities that have evolved rapidly in the last decades, along with the concept of security itself. The core of the book is the fourth chapter which delves into more technical aspects, including the defence sector's regulatory framework, procurement procedures, research & development and experimentation practices, military logistics support and equipment maintenance systems, as well as the increasing role of contractors.
According to Gansler, there are two main causes of the malfunctioning and inefficiencies of the US defence system: the uniqueness of the defence market considered as a cost and barriers multiplier that does not allow for true competition; and the Department of Defense's (DoD) accounting system, based on the military motto "the best for our boys at any cost", in contrast with the costs' minimisation ratio of the commercial sector. In this regard, Gansler believes the US defence sector (both the authorities and the industry) should undertake a process of radical change so as to create a more technologically advanced and competitive structure able to provide the required equipment and systems at lower cost. According to the author, such a transformation could be brought about by boosting investments in human resources, R&D and universities, and by implementing long-term policies in specific critical areas (such as netcentric systems, weapon system requirement processes, DoD competition procedures, etc.). This would then make the entire sector more flexible and responsive and open up available resources for other socio-economic priorities, such as health care programs, welfare and social security services, as well as control of national debt.
Although dealing with complex issues, Gansler succeeds in explaining them in a clear and linear manner, building his arguments on historical and straightforward examples and data comparisons. Nevertheless, because of the detailed technical language, the book is recommended above all for experts desirous of an in-depth knowledge of the US' gigantic "arsenal". (Federico Ruzzi)